The backstory of the Bible gives us important context for the stories in it. In this episode, Andy explores the radical worldview introduced “in the beginning.”
- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). What comes to mind when you think about this verse?
- Andy mentioned that, in Genesis, Moses is not trying to explain how God created the heavens and the earth. Moses is making the case that God (not the gods) created the universe. Does this distinction change the way you think about the creation account? If so, how?
- God decided every man, woman, and child would be born with dignity because they were made in his image. How does this statement resonate with you?
- Does the new worldview described in Genesis offer you any helpful insights when it comes to life’s big questions of “Why are you here?” and “Why do you matter?” Explain
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So, we’re in part two of this series titled, The Bible for Grown-Ups. The reason I wanted to do the series, and the reason I’m so glad that you’re here and that you’re watching––or that you’re tuned in––is because while most people––Christians, non-Christians, people even from other religions––while most people know parts of some Bible stories, most people do not know the story of the Bible. In fact, one of the reasons it has been so easy for some of you to dismiss the Bible, the reason it was so easy for you to dismiss Christianity or to walk away from your childhood faith is because while people told you Bible stories as you were growing up, nobody ever sat down and explained to you the story of the Bible. Part of the reason they didn’t tell you the story of the Bible as a child is because you wouldn’t be interested. The other reason people didn’t tell you the story of the Bible is because, in many instances, the people that handed you your first Bible did not know the story of the Bible themselves. But this is a really big deal. It’s a really big deal in our culture. It’s a really big deal in your life. It’s a really big deal for Christians. And it’s maybe even a bigger deal if you grew up in the faith and walked away from the faith, because understanding how we got the Bible is almost as important as what is in it. The back story sheds light on “the story.”
Now, part of the challenge, for all of us, regardless of what kind of home you grew up in––Christian, non-Christian––is that the way we got our personal Bibles is very different from the way we got the Bible. By the time I got my Bible, it was chaptered and versed and mapped and wrapped. It was all put together. The Jewish Scriptures were in here. The Christian’s Scriptures were in here. They were footnoted and had these cool maps in the back. And mine was wrapped––as I told you last time––in genuine, fake, artificial, red leather with my name printed on it. In what color?
Gold. That’s right. Because that’s what they did. Now, let’s say we could survey everybody, and I gave you a 3 x 5 card––and those of you who are watching from home or you’re listening wherever you are––and I said, “Hey, would you write down on a 3 x 5 card where you think the Bible came from?” We would probably get as many answers as there are people listening and people watching. There are all kinds of crazy, crazy ideas about where the Bible came from. And again, if you don’t know the story of how the Bible came to be, it’s just so much easier to dismiss everything inside of it.
So, just to get us started, Jesus did not write it. In fact, Jesus didn’t write any of it. But here is the new information for most people, especially if you’ve walked away from faith or grew up in faith but didn’t know the story of the Bible. Jesus didn’t write it, but Jesus is the reason that we have it.
Our story begins, the story of the Bible begins, not in Genesis. The story of the Bible begins when Jesus was discovered alive after he’d been crucified. It’s important to know––as we talked about last week––if Jesus had been crucified and didn’t rise from the dead––you need to understand––the Bible would not exist. There would be nothing to write about.
The reason men and women decided to document the life of Jesus is not because of what he taught, and it wasn’t that he was crucified. Jesus made too many claims about himself. The fact that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea actually took a lifeless body down from a Roman cross proved that Jesus was not who he claimed to be, and he was not who his followers hoped that he was. But when that tomb was discovered empty, and when his disciples saw him alive from the dead, these men and women who ran for their lives when he was arrested went into the streets of Jerusalem. They proclaimed not what they had read about, not what they’d heard about, but what they had seen with their own eyes: a resurrected Savior. And the church began.
And so, the events surrounding the life of Jesus, this resurrected Rabbi, the events of his life were extremely important to first-century followers. This is an overload of detail, but many people attempted to write down an orderly account of the life of Jesus. Not just a few… many. And the reason we have those accounts is not because of what he taught, not that he was crucified, and not that he was arrested. The reason someone sat down to document the life of Jesus is because he rose from the dead. So, consequently, we have this document we call “Matthew” that’s an account of the life of Jesus: also “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John.” And as soon as these were written––and they were written in different times––but as soon as they were written, they were immediately considered valuable. They were immediately considered reliable and, consequently, sacred because of the story it told and inspired. And very quickly, these four documents were considered by the early church to be Scripture. But it’s important to understand, after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written, there was no Bible.
There were just four accounts of the life of Jesus that the early church held in high regard and––as we just talked about last week––would eventually risk their lives to protect.
And that’s where the story picks up this week. The apostle Paul and others left Judea and began telling Gentiles, non-Jewish people, about the claims of Jesus. And the biggest transition and struggle for Gentiles who were enamored by the life of Jesus and the message of Jesus, and for Gentiles who wanted to embrace the life of Jesus, and for Gentiles who embraced Jesus as their Savior and Lord was this. The struggle for them was the whole idea of giving up everything they had been brought up to believe. The struggle was giving up everything that everyone around them had been brought up to believe and embracing the idea that there was only one God.
Now, this is such a no-brainer for us because we’re not polytheist. For example, it would be like many of you who grew up believing in God to suddenly just stop believing in God. It would be like those of you who don’t believe in God to suddenly start believing in God. So, the entire ancient, non-Jewish world was expected––in order to be a Christian––to embrace this notion that there was only one God. This was unimaginable. It’s important to know this: in ancient times, people didn’t convert from one religion to another. They didn’t leave Islam to become Christian or leave Christianity to become Buddhist or leave Buddhism to become Hindu. That’s not how it worked. There weren’t religions like that.
Every region, every nation––the barbarians, the Romans, the earlier Greeks––every region, every nation had their own gods, and most families had family gods. They worship their ancestors. And so when you move from place to place, you just took your gods with you. You just put them in a sack and brought ’em and set up your family alter. And nobody really cared what gods that you worship or serve. And as we said last week, the Roman Empire, they didn’t care who you worship. As long as you paid homage to Caesar and as long as you did not dishonor the Roman gods, you could keep your household god, and you could keep your family’s gods; it just didn’t matter. And then Christianity comes along and says, “No. You have to give up all your gods.”
So, this was an obstacle for Gentiles who embraced Christianity, but more and more, in different parts of the world, Gentiles came to faith in Jesus. But the idea of there being one God seemed to them to be very novel and very new.
Now, this is a really important part of our journey––and we’re gonna talk a little bit more about this next week––but this is the part, maybe, nobody told you. When Gentiles became enamored with one particular Jew, they became enamored with the sacred text of the Jews. Now, before Jesus came along, this was not the case.
There was always a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of Gentiles who followed Judaism as close as they could. Occasionally, somebody would actually be baptized and go through a ceremony to become a Gentile version of a Jewish person. But for the most part, Gentile people had virtually no interest in Jewish religion and virtually no interest in the Jews until they were introduced to the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus, and the claims of Jesus, and until they were confronted with the Apostle Paul and Peter and others who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection. And when they discovered that the Jewish texts––which they called the Law and the Prophets, not the Old Testament that we’d come to later––when they discovered that the Law and the Prophets were the back story to this new story, they became interested in the Jewish text. They weren’t interested in Judaism, and this causes a problem later on. They were interested in finding Jesus in the text of the Jewish people.
But to their amazement, they discovered that the Jews––whose religion was older than the religion of the Romans and older than the religion of the Greeks––they discovered that the Jewish people had always, from the very beginning, only believed in one God: Yahweh.
Now, here’s a little bit of history for you before we get back into the plot line, because this is important. During the first-century, second-century, and third-century, Christians were persecuted by the Romans because the Christians––as we said last week––would not worship the gods and would not declare that Caesar is Lord. But the Jews had never worshiped or honored the Roman gods, and the Jews had never declared that Caesar was Lord. So, a question you may have never asked before––but you should ask––is this. Why is it that the empire, the Roman Empire, gave the Jews a pass, but they persecuted the Christians? The Jews were just as guilty as the Christians of not declaring Caesar is Lord and not honoring any of the Roman gods, but the Romans left the Jews alone. And do you know why Rome allowed the Jews to have a pass as it related to Caesar and the Roman gods? This is very important. Because Rome honored ancient things, and the Romans knew that the Jewish religion was older than the story of Romulus and Remus and that the Jewish religion was older than the pantheon of Greek gods. They recognized that the Jewish scripture and the Jewish religion was older than any of their religions.
So, even though they didn’t honor Yahweh as God, they honored the fact that the Jewish religion was older than their religion, so the Jews got a pass. So, when these Gentile Christians––their scholars and their bishops––began, for the first time, exploring Jewish Scripture, they were shocked to discover that the oldest religion anyone ever knew about had recognized that there was only one God from the very beginning. The implications of this were staggering. The implications were that since ancient times, every single other nation that worshipped multiple gods, every family that worshiped their ancestors, and every single culture since ancient times had it wrong.
And the Jews had known this from the beginning. They opened up, they unscrolled that first segment in the Jewish text that we call Genesis, and here’s what they found. “In the beginning, God…” We’ve heard this so many times. We’ve read this so many times. You’ve argued against this so many times. You’ve disputed whether or not this is true or who wrote it. But don’t, don’t, don’t miss the original context, and don’t miss the implications of the original context. This was shocking to the ancient world, because they expected to find what they found in all the other non-Jewish cults and creation stories: “In the beginning, the gods…” But God? The word “Genesis” is a Greek word; it actually means “origin.” It’s the first Book of our English Bibles. We know, for sure, that Moses wrote the first five books of our English Bible and of the Jewish text. But something very interesting happened that has affected every single one of you here and every single one of you watching and listening. Here’s what happened. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archeological finds made the claims of what we find in Genesis a little suspect.
In nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archeological finds created doubt regarding the origins of the Jewish or the Genesis creation account. And here’s where those doubts came from. They found Egyptian, Sumerian, Canaanite, and Babylonian creation text. They discovered these texts, and they were very similar––or so they thought––to the Hebrew text. They were so similar that the initial assumption was that these ancient Hebrew text actually borrowed from other ancient creation stories. And the assumption is, “Look. This didn’t come from God. The ancient Hebrews just borrowed from all these other stories. So, it’s just one of many stories. Why take it seriously?” The point being, it’s not unique. What you need to know––because who keeps up with this stuff other than nerds like me––what you need to know is that view has been pretty much abandoned in scholarship. Not only does Genesis not borrow from other creation myths. Genesis stands in startling contrast to other ancient creation stories.
Genesis is a worldview unto itself. An extraordinary, ahead-of-its-time worldview. In fact, the scientific community, the modern scientific community, wouldn’t even begin to catch up with the first statement in Genesis until 1927 when a Belgian priest first suggested the theory we call the Big Bang theory––that the universe had a beginning. Maybe you know this; now you will. Since the time of Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, everyone pretty much assumed that the universe just existed, that it had always existed, that matter just was. Albert Einstein embraced this idea that the universe has always been. But in 1964––with the discovery of the cosmic, microwave, background radiation that some of you studied in school––the view that the universe has always existed was abandoned. Scientists pretty much agree that in a trillion trillionth of a second, the universe expanded at an extraordinary speed from the size of something smaller than a pebble to its current astronomical scope. Or in the words of Genesis, “In the beginning…”
The significance of what comes next is lost on us, and the reason is because the point that Moses is trying to make is actually assumed by us. To say it a different way, Moses is building a case that’s no longer needed, because his argument ultimately succeeded. The point that Moses is trying to make is something that we all assume. But Moses is writing to an ancient, ancient group of people who all they know is slavery, all they know is the power of the Egyptian gods, this pantheon of gods.
And so, Moses is trying to help them to narrow their focus and re-believe, to become atheist as it relates to the Egyptian gods and become believers in the one God, Yahweh. So, in Genesis, he’s not trying to explain how God created the heavens and the earth––and this is where we get mixed up. Moses is making the point that God created the heavens and the earth, not the gods, just Yahweh. And so, he says, “In the beginning, God created…” Not Egypt’s Amon-Ra or Babylon’s Marduk who rode into this epic battle of the gods.
In Genesis, we find something extraordinarily, extraordinarily different, not even close, no similarity, no borrowing. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis is nothing like the Egyptian creation myths. It is nothing like the Canaanite creation myths. It is nothing like the Babylonian creation myths. In these myths, the gods are at odds with themselves, the gods war with each other, and then the gods actually create other gods out of body parts and out of body fluids. And this brings us to the next epic, ahead-of-its-time statement. This is so extraordinary.
The Babylonian creation myth––perhaps you’ve heard of and maybe studied and read parts of it in college––is called the Enûma Elišh; it means, “when on high.” And in the Enuma Elish, mankind is eventually created. I think you’re like five books into the Enuma Elish before you ever even get to the creation of mankind, and mankind is created to serve the lazy gods. So, after becoming the chief of the gods, the King of all the gods, Marduk, says the following. And this is actually a text from the Enuma Elish. Here’s what Marduk says, “I will establish a savage. Man shall be his name, savage man. I will create. He shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease.”
In all of the ancient creation myths, mankind/womankind is an afterthought to take the load off, to lighten the load of the gods. Genesis is completely different. Because of the way ancient people embrace these ancient mythologies about their gods, individuals had absolutely no rights. Women had absolutely no status, no hope. There was no intrinsic value in anyone. The violence and the injustice of the gods justified the violence and the injustices of their leaders, the men and women that worship them. The kings of these foreign nations and these pagan cults were essentially acting like their fathers in the heavens. And then you come to Genesis––which is in stark contrast with no parallel, nothing even close––a concept that the human race continues to struggle with even to this day. Genesis tells us––the religion that was older than any of the current religions in the first century––Genesis says what no other pagan myth said. It said, “Then God said, let us make mankind in our image.” In the Jewish text, the creation of mankind/womankind is the pinnacle, not the afterthought, of creation. Which means––don’t miss this––dignity. The dignity of every man, the dignity of every woman, the dignity of every child is established at the very beginning. This was unheard of.
There was no parallel anywhere. And the pagan mythologies and the pantheon of gods that would develop after this through the ages, none of them established this kind of thought or this kind of idea of “but.” There’s more. What comes next is even more unthinkable and more unimaginable. This is why later archeologist and later scholars decided, “You know what. The Jews didn’t borrow from any of these ancient myths. This myth…”––as they would consider it––”is far and away different.” Again, it is a worldview unto itself, because what came next was completely unimaginable. It would have been unimaginable five hundred years later, a thousand years later, fifteen hundred years later, almost two thousand years later. And this would still be unimaginable. Here’s what the text says, “And then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over…'”––not worship, not make idols out of, not deify––”‘so that they may rule over the fish in the sea, and the birds in the sky, and over the livestock, and all the wild animals.'” That in the very beginning, God told the Jewish people, “You will make no idols. You’ll make no idol of me, Yahweh. You’ll make no idol or images out of animals or other people or anything that crawls on the ground or flies in the air. You will have no other gods before me, because there aren’t any other gods.”
And I’m telling you, this is in stark contrast to the Egyptian pantheon of gods that they had just escaped from. God says, “You will not worship nature.” Think about this, “You will not worship nature. You will rule over nature.” The implication being, “You will be the stewards of this world.” An idea we are still wrestling to the ground this very day. Every single pagan culture following the establishment of the Jewish people worshipped nature, and the elements of nature, and the animals of nature, and all kinds of mixtures of animals of nature. So, from the very beginning, God established a unique worldview. God created mankind in his own image. Unthinkable. “In the image of God,” is repeated for emphasis. “In the image of God, he created them.” Ladies, male and female, he created them. Look up here. You’ve heard me say this before if you’ve been around. I think every woman should be a Christian. Jesus was the first to elevate the status of women; this is why so many women follow Jesus. But ladies, in the very beginning, the God of the Jews, who became the God of the Christians, gave you dignity that the world is still trying to catch up with today. Only recently has civilization begun to wrestle the way it needs to wrestle with the dignity of men and women. And it was there in the very beginning.
Now, our problem with this is that we get distracted. Because when we read Genesis, we think, “Oh, Moses is trying to explain how God created the world.” How in the world…? Come on. How in the world can anyone understand at these ancient times, especially, how God created the world? His point wasn’t how God created the world. His point was that God created the world. And we get all confused and focused on the timing and the sequencing of the creation account. And we miss the magnificence of these ancient statements. Moses––this is no exaggeration––Moses dropped a bomb in the very beginning. Moses introduced a radically different, unparalleled, untested worldview.
This would be the foundation of what would later be called the golden rule, and the golden rule is not reflected in nature. And let’s be honest, the golden rule isn’t even reflected in human nature. But the idea was introduced at the very beginning when God said, “You are not a means to an end. You are not to worship nature. I’m going to make you as close as possible to me. I’m going to make you in my image.” Which means every man, every woman, every child, you have a face-to-face with and you bear the image of their creator. Be careful how you treat them.
According to the Enûma Elišh, you were born a slave to the gods. According to the Enûma Elišh, you have no individual dignity, no individual rights. There is no redeemer, and there is no afterlife. According to the new atheists, you were born a slave to your DNA. You have no free will. There is no redeemer, and there is no afterlife. But in the very beginning, we are introduced to a God who saves, who redeems, who delivers, and who never ever, ever gives up on you. All of this “in the very beginning.” A God who gives us freedom to choose and then honors our choices. And then Yahweh does the most ungodsly thing imaginable: he goes to work to reverse the consequences of mankind’s decision to choose against him. Genesis 1 creates, gives us, and provides us with the meta-narrative of our lives: the big picture, the ultimate context for human experience, a monotheistic worldview. A worldview––and please don’t miss this, this is so important––a worldview that answers life’s most important questions: the why questions. The “why is there something rather than nothing” question.
More personally, why are you here, and why do you matter? That you’re here on purpose, with a purpose. You are not the result of some cosmic conflict between the gods, and you were not created by the universe. God wanted image-bearers who could know and relate to one another, and image-bearers that can know and relate to him. And this is my favorite part. And when the time was right, when everything was just as it needed to be, Yahweh, the God of Genesis, joined us. In the opening line of the Hebrew Bible, they realized something that was very difficult for first-century Jews to acknowledge.
In the opening line of the Scripture that they began to adopt as their own Scripture, they realized that the Jews had it right all along, which, of course, only fueled their interest in the Law and the Prophets, the Hebrew Scriptures. And they moved very quickly to adopt the Hebrew Scripture––or the Hebrew Bible, or the Law and the Prophets––as their own Christian Scripture. And thus, the stage was set for the inclusion of Jewish Scripture in the Christian Bible. But that inclusion would not be without its struggles. So, please, please, please don’t miss episode three of The Bible for Grown-Ups.