It’s important that we read the Bible on its own terms. If the Bible says about itself that it is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), then, by faith, we believe that it is. Being the inspired Word of God means that it was “God breathed”, a metaphor meaning that it, like God, it is honest and true (that the Bible does not affirm anything that does not conform to reality and does not deceive us). Accompanying the self-testimony about the Bible is the testimony of the community of faith that attests to the reliability of its witness.
Similarly, as people who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, we believe in the clarity of the message of the Bible. This means that by the help of the Holy Spirit, the message of the Bible is clear to those who read it while seeking to love and obey God. In other words, just like with salvation, we can only truly understand the message of the Bible when we read it humbly; when we allow it to have authority over us rather than us having authority over it. If we cannot approach the Bible with humility, then we’ll get it wrong every time. After all, to the Jews the cross was scandalous and to the Gentile it was folly. What do you see when you see the cross?
Along with this, it’s also important to allow the Bible to set its own agenda. This means allowing the Bible to answer the questions it’s interested in rather than forcing certain passages to answer questions that they were never intended to answer. The Bible, we must remember, while written for contemporary readers, was written to a historical audience. This means that we have to ask, “What were the original authors getting at?”
One text from the Bible that contemporary readers often times do not allow to speak on its own terms is Genesis 1. Too often contemporary debates force questions on Genesis 1 that Genesis 1 was never intended to answer. The question for us is, “what question is Genesis 1 trying to answer?” What was the issue that the inspired author of Genesis 1 (tradition says the author is Moses, but the Bible never says that Moses is the author of Genesis 1) to write that text? Well, we’re not entirely sure, but there are some things that we are sure about.
For starters, the creation account is similar to the ancient Babylonia creation myth called the Enuma Elish (named after the first two words of the myth itself). While Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 are similar, there are key differences between them. It is in evaluating differences between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish that we can begin to discover the point of Genesis 1 (for more on the differences, see John Oswalt’s, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? Zondervan, 2009).
One of the key differences between Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 is that in the Enuma Elish creation is the result of warring deities. There are ongoing feuds and bloody battles between the various deities in the Babylonian myth. In fact, the creation of the sea is the result of one deity slicing open another deity at the mouth and setting her bottom jaw as what became the sea–graphic stuff. The deities in the Enuma Elish, in other words, are just like people. They are self-serving and have needs, competitors, and are subject to death and fate.
This is not the case in Genesis.
Have you ever noticed the formulaic nature of the language in Genesis 1? The formula goes something like this (with variation), “And God said, ‘Let there be ___,’ and it was so.” This formula repeats itself over and over until the creation is finished. There are no competitors, no feuds, no warring, no violence–just God, peacefully creating. This dynamic testifies to the sovereignty of God. God is all powerful. He’s not like the deities of the other nations who have to struggle against other forces to have his way; all he does is speak, and it happens.
Genesis 1, is telling the original readers (and we get to listen in!) that the God of the Jews is the One True God. While there are all sorts of “deities” out there competing for power and control, God sits peacefully in heaven, speaking his will into being (cf. Psalm 2). This is the God of Jacob.