Meet Your Maker (Snoke and Mirrors, part 5)
Now we will turn to some exegetical considerations in our discussion of A Biblical Case for an Old Earth by David Snoke, beginning with the genre of the first chapter of Genesis, the subject certainly of a great deal of spilled ink, from the quilting bee approach of the Documentary Hypothesis to the ANE mythological parallels or else polemics. I would agree with Dr.Snoke that it is not a science text per se; it is not given to satisfy our curiosity about how the world came to be. Nor is the early part of Genesis a series of myth, legend and folktales strung together like so many beads on a string.
Part One: Genesis 1 is not Poetry
However, in this regard to genre, Dr. Snoke takes us down a totally wrong path right from the start when he asserts that Genesis 1 is poetry:
Genesis 1 is clearly different in style from the later historical chapters of Genesis and the historical books, because of its poetic structure. To say it is “poetic” does not mean it is not true; it simply has the form of a poem, like the Psalms, in which words are sometimes used symbolically and generically. David Snoke, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (p. 145)
Thinking of the creation narrative as poetic is a not uncommon
mistake. A line from Inherit the Wind dismisses it as “the
pleasant poetry of Genesis.” The problem with this
assertion is, first, that it simply is objectively untrue. Hebrew
poetry is quite common in the Old Testament: Psalms, Proverbs, Song
of Songs, Job, the vast majority of the Prophets, for example, and it
has well-known and readily recognizable characteristics.
Genesis 1 is simply very unlike Hebrew poetry in structure, as I
shall demonstrate. The chapter does exhibit a stylized structure,
repetition of certain elements, and sequential sections that might be
mistaken for stanzas, but these are characteristics drawn from the
genre of which it largely partakes, procedural discourse.
Second, to misclassify Genesis 1 as poetry falsely predisposes
toward a figurative interpretation. One major feature of Hebrew
poetry is the rich use of imagery, simile, metaphor. This is not to
say that understanding Genesis 1 as prose predisposes toward the
literal. Prose can contain figures as well, and these may be
identified in various ways, but poetry essentially demands imagery.
On the other hand, to the degree that we can identify Genesis1 as
some species of procedural discourse, it is worth noting that
procedural texts highly tend toward the concrete and directly
Features of Hebrew poetry include:
1. First, it has its particular rhythm or meter. Each line
typically has two halves with three elements each, though this
pattern is varied often. Genesis 1 is not structured this way.
2. It does not rhyme, but has “rhyming meaning,” this
is what is known as parallelism. Often the three elements in the
first half are matched with three elements in the second half, known
as synonymous parallelism. This is only one type, however, but there
are several types of balancing corresponding meaning, as the example
below will show. This is not present in Genesis 1, with the possible
exception of v. 27, but we will examine this below. There is a kind
of matching phenomenon in the content of the days, and this has
sometimes been cited as “parallelism,” but it is at a
higher level, between paragraphs or sections, and not at all what is
meant by parallelism in the context of poetic structure.
3. Also there are characteristic grammatical features. For
example, the article and the direct object marker ‘eth are
used much less frequently, as is the conjunction “and.”
Genesis 1 uses all three of these abundantly, quite unlike poetry.
4. Generally, there is an archaic feeling to it, with older,
otherwise obsolete words being prominent. Some words are considered
“poetic” and occur in preference to certain prosaic
words. One example below is bal, a negative which is used in
poetry in preference to the ususal lo’, the negative of prose.
I do not believe any of the usual list of archaic words can be found
in Genesis 1.
5. In addition to all this, as I mentioned above, there is
prominent use of imagery, figurative speech, particularly visual
metaphors, personification, anthropomorphism and the like. Of
course, to what extent Genesis 1 is figurative is part of what we are
considering here, and we could point to a certain level of imagery.
The chapter depicts God as speaking, for example. We do not thereby
understand vocal cords and a vibrating column of air. So it entails
something of an anthropomorphism However, a side by side comparison
will demonstrate the difference between what we find in Genesis 1 and
true poetic imagery. In fact Psalm 104 is essentially a poetic
treatment of Genesis 1.
To illustrate how the metric structure of poetry works, below is
an interlinear presentation of Psalm 104:5-9. Translations typically
lay poetry out in lines, but the individual elements may or may not
be apparent. The five lines presented show a verset pattern as
follows: 3:3, 3:3, 2:3, 2:2:3, 3:3.
5 He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
As mentioned above, one possible poetic structure is in verse 27,
which in the ESV is set in lines as poetry:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
This is the only verse that approaches poetry in the chapter,
which of course is one more demonstration that the rest is not.
However, at best I would call it quasi-poetic at best. It has
something that is similar to parallelism but is really rather
opposite to it. Where parallelism would have, for example a 3:3 line
where elements ABC appears in the first verset and synonyms A’B'C’
may appear in the same order in the second verset, here the same
words occur in each half but in different order:
|in-image (of)||God||He created||D.O.-them|
Also of note in this one “quasi-poetic” verse we have
four elements, the waw consecutive, the definite article, and
THREE instances of the direct object marker ‘eth.
However, it is a distinct structure that draws the attention and
sets it apart from the rest. This is due to its comprising the
climax of the chapter. Whatever the genre, at verse 27 the discourse
reaches its peak, and the author takes some extra steps to highlight
Part Two: Genesis 1 as Procedural Discourse
If Genesis 1 is not a poetic cosmogony, then what is it? The
answer I will suggest draws from the nature of what is being
recounted, the step-step-by-step construction by a Master Craftsman,
and it’s place in the legal literature of Israel, the Torah. First,
we will consider the contribution of procedural discourse to the
structure of Genesis 1. This consideration draws on the work of
linguist Robert Longacre, who identifies two types of procedural
discourse: (1) “how to do it,” and (2) “how it was
done.” These two may be illustrated by, first, the
instructions of how the tabernacle and associated accoutrements were
to be constructed (25:10-31:11) and, second, how they were in fact
constructed (Exodus 36:8-39:43). Genesis 1 though is not pure
procedural discourse, as Longacre defined it, but what “skewed”
in his terms, blending in elements of narrative discourse, such as
focus on the agent and the narrative schema of verb tenses, and so is
the latter mentioned section in Exodus. A great deal of the
Penteteuch is procedural discourse,in fact, providing instructions on
how to deal with various problems, how to present sacrifices and
offerings and such. Other sections similar to those above include
Exodus 40:1-33, which recounts the actual erection of the tabernacle,
following the construction of its elements. Also 1 Kings 6:1-7:51
and 2 Ch. 3:1-5:1 similarly record the construction of the temple
Numbers 7 is of particular note as it is a “how-it-was-done”
type of procedural discourse organized according to twelve sequential
days. Also it is repetative and formulaic, with verbatim repetition
in the body of each day section. Nehemiah 3 similarly presents
procedural discourse organized in sequence spacially, one section of
the wall followed by the next, and it employs repetitive formulae,
such as: “They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and
its bars.” (v. 3)
Below is a comparison of features of Genesis 1 and verses from
some of the procedural discourses mentioned, particularly Ex. 36-39
and 1 Kings 6-7, where we see the same kind of mixed narrative and
procedural skewing as in Genesis 1. Of note are the references to
the date construction started, in one instance employing a form of
the root r’sh, from which is derived re’shit
“beginning.” Also the same verb and verbal structure are
employed, wayya’as, “and he made.” Very
interesting parallels are the notation of seeing and judging the work
in Ex. 39:43, which is followed by a blessing, and statements of
completion, which occur at the end of Ex. 36-39, Ex. 40, 1 Kings 6-7,
and in 2 Chron. 5:1, and which exactly parallels Genesis 2:1. There
even seems to be something of a parallel to “quasi-poetic”
structure of the climactic verse 27 of Genesis1, in the fabrication
of the mercy seat and the pair of overshadowing cherubim.
Part Three: Genesis 1 as Covenant Preamble.
Drawing from the work of Meredith Kline on the Israelite Covenant
in light of ancient near eastern suzerainty treaties, it appears that
Genesis 1 is filling role of covenant preamble. Kline lists the five
main sections of such ancient covenants as follows:
- Preamble, introducing the supreme king and emphasizing his
majesty, power and greatness.
- Historical Prologue, identifying the vassal and detailing the
previous relations between the two parties, particularly stressing
the blessings bestowed by the king.
- Stipulations, stating in detail the obligations imposed by
the king and accepted by the vassal for maintenance of proper
- Sanctions, blessings and curses for obedience and
- Succession Arrangements, for deposit of the text, periodic
reading, and continuation of the covenant by future generations.
As far as I know, Dr. Kline himself never applied this structure
to the whole of the Pentateuch, but the Torah was the supreme Law of
Israel, the constitution for the nation. We agree with Bruce Waltke,
that the composition of Genesis, as a coherent whole at least, comes
out to the Sinai experience, when the tribes became a nation., and
that Genesis 1 comprises the Preamble to the covenant (Waltke, “The
Genre of Genesis, Chapter One”). There is logic in seeing the
Pentateuch as at least following the general outline of the ancient
near eastern covenant, because of its structure. The bulk of it is
comprised of laws, and includes provision for keeping the tables of
the Law in the Ark of the Covenant and contains blessings and curses,
most specifically in Deuteronomy. Prior to these, generally all of
Genesis and Exodus 1-19 is narrative, specifically recounting man’s
relationship with his Creator, the cause of discord, the selection of
one man to found a people and this people’s growth as a family, clans
and eventually tribes, followed by the specific circumstance of
bondage in Egypt.
Genesis 1 then fills the role of the Preamble and is intended to
reveal just exactly who this King is who is making this covenant and
who through it is bringing salvation to the world. The Preamble,
then presents the King in the role of Creator, and this is the reason
why the procedural discourse concerning the creation of all things,
most especially man fills the role of introducing God. No doubt this
chapter could be mined without end for truth about God, but here we
identify seven themes in particular, which will be vital in the
Mosaic covenant, continue to be important motifs throughout all of
Scripture, and come to full fruition in the person of Jesus Christ,
the Son of God. These seven themes are comprised of four roles and
It is no small matter that the first truth the Scriptures tell us
about God is that He is our Creator: “In the beginning, God
created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). To the maker go
the rights of ownership: “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is
he who made us, and we are his.” (Ps. 100:3) Note Gen 14:19:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and
earth,” where the word translated “Possessor,”
qoneh, means both “creator” and “owner.”
And He has full rights over His creation: “Has the potter no
right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for
honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:21)
Jesus had a right to be outraged: “He was in the world, and the
world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
In Genesis 1, we see God’s creative power exercised by His
command. As the King of the universe, He speaks, and it is done: “And
God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (v. 1)
This kingly authority was recognized in Jesus: “And they were
astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had
authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mk. 1:22)
Lord, I am not worthy to have you come
under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say
to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’
and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does
it.” (Matt. 8:8-9)
Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, and we
see at His return: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name
written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:16)
God looked at His own work and judged it: “And God saw that
it was good. “ (Gen. 1:18); “And God saw everything that
he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31). He
also judged what was not good: “It is not good that the man
should be alone.” (Gen. 2:18) It was over this very role of God
as Judge, that the first sin occurred, as man arrogated for himself
the right independently to judge:
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be
opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen.
3:5) This judgment of creation has passed to the Son:
The times of ignorance God overlooked,
but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has
fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a
man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all
by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)
Genesis 1 very clearly specifies the uniqueness of man:
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God
he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Gen.
In this way His creation of us is in a manner of speaking also His
procreation. His intent is to create sons and daughters. Adam is
called “the son of God.” (Luke 3:38). We see what the
phrase “in his image means at the birth of the first child:
“When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own
likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” (Gen. 5:3) The
Old Testament does not often refer to this truth about God, but it is
not absent: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God
created us?” (Malachi 2:10) Jesus Christ is uniquely the
eternal Son of God, but He came to bring “many sons to glory.”
As Father, He is also our Provider: “And God said, “Behold,
I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all
the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them
for food.” (Gen. 1:29) He continues to provide: “So
Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”:
as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall
be provided.” (Gen. 22:14), and the greatest blessing was
provided by Abraham’s Seed:
For if, because of one man’s trespass,
death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive
the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in
life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)
God’s creation is His self-revelation, and He begins with light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3) Throughout the Scriptures, light symbolizes God’s righteousness and holiness: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (John 1:5) Jesus came as that light: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). A frequently heard objection is that light is created on day one, before the sun is created on day four. Yet light is far more fundamental and everlasting than the sun, which was created as a lamp: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.’” (Gen. 1:14) The word translated “lights” in reference to the sun and moon, in each case is not ‘or, the word for light as a substance, but me’or, “luminary” or “lamp,” standing for and testifying to the light of God’s holiness. Similarly, Jesus was “the true light” (John 1: 9) whereas John the Baptist was “a burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). As with John, so with the sun, we are “willing to rejoice for a while in his light,” but in the New Heavens and New Earth the Lord is the light:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (Rev. 21:23-24)
One of the striking aspects of the chapter is the process that God follows to form the earth, since He does not do any of this by necessity. Had he wished He could have produced everything fully formed at the exercise of His will. Yet He makes a point not only of going through certain steps, but of telling us that He does so. I take it, then, that the steps are significant. He begins by separating light from darkness. We have already seen that light is an everlasting symbol of God’s holiness, and so its separation from darkness further emphasizes this, and makes a didactic point for His people.
For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
This separation is emblematic of His separating out a people for Himself:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9)
The principle of the remnant, that God separates out a people for Himself, first nationally, through Israel, then trans-nationally through the Church, is not only a major theme of Scriptural revelation, but the process through which He effects salvation for His people. Like successive lots, of mankind, Israel is taken, of Israel Judah is taken, of Judah, Jesus of Nazareth is taken, the ultimate Son of Man, King of Israel, Last Adam.
The major structural feature of Genesis 1 is, of course, the six-day creation, seventh day rest pattern, which is the subject of the major controversy, at least as far as Dr. Snoke’s book is concerned. Again, we must understand that whatever we conclude about the seven days, we can be sure that it is a process that God had no need to follow, as He could have created all things in an instant by the exercise of His will. Yet it is how He was pleased to do it—or how He was pleased to tell us that He did it. Why? The most explicit answer is that He was setting up a pattern for His people to follow. Central to the covenant is the commandment:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:8-11)
This rhythm of life is a repeated theme, the number seven, throughout the life of God’s people: the Sabbath, Sabbath years (Ex. 23:10-11), the year of Jubilee after seven Sabbath year periods (Lev. 25:8-12), seventy years of captivity based on the failure to observe these sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:20-21), Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks also based on these captivity years (Dan. 9:24-27). Ultimately the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” is saturated with sevens (I believe based on the Daniel prophecy).
Beyond this, Genesis 1 shows that God is creator of time as well as space and matter. First, the seven days illustrates this, as of all our time measurements, the week is the one that is not based on a natural process such as the rotation of the earth or its revolution around the sun. Second is the frequently observed oddity that the text counts days of creation prior to the creation of the sun on day four. Is this an “oops” moment, Homer nodding, a slight discrepancy that the author did not spot? No, it seems to me that the obvious point is that a day is a day because God designated it so. The sun and the moon are not only a lamps but also clocks: “And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” (Gen. 1:14)
The Young Earth/Old Earth debate is all about time. The time we experience or the time we detect or believe we detect from observation of creation is a created thing just as we and all the universe are. The text of Genesis makes it very clear that God is Lord also of time. Whatever we conclude in the debate, it behooves us to listen very carefully to the self revelation of the Lord of time.
Genesis 1 is God’s self introduction to His people, and the only appropriate response is glory, honor and awe. Here is the point of saying it is not a text of science; not that the few details relating to the cosmos are non-factual, but that the Creator, not the creation is the take-home message. Frankly, God does not tell us enough about his process of creation to question the timing the text presents. Does He mean us to understand that He created the universe in six literal days, and relatively recently? Nothing that we learn about God here leads us to doubt His ability. Can science judge this? Only if we first know what a recent six-day creation would look like, and then we observe that it does not, in fact, look that way. We cannot know this, however, as we stand as fonts of ignorance before Him. What then is too hard about the six days?
We are often like the press, following a presidential press conference. The president tells us the important things he wants us to know, but we, ignoring his words, throw up questions about this or that, anything but what he has just told us about. In the light of God’s self revelation in Genesis 1, we should rather be like Job, having just been addressed by God from the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:1-4)
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.” (40:3-4)
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:2-3,5-6)