bible blog 1616


Anti Nazi demo in Cologne

Anti Nazi demo in Cologne

As explained in the concluding blogs of 2014 I am studying Genesis and Mark’s gospel in tandem. Readers will find introductory material in those blogs and the first passages from both books in the first blogs of 2015,


These are the histories of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day that Jehovah Elohim made earth and heavens,

5 – before every shrub of the field  was in the earth, and before every herb of the field grew; for Jehovah Elohim had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground-

6 But a mist went up from the earth, and moistened the whole surface of the ground.

7 And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul.

8 And Jehovah Elohim planted a garden in Eden eastward, and there put Man whom he had formed.

9 And out of the ground Jehovah Elohim made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; and the tree of life, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 And a river went out of Eden, to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four main streams.

11 The name of the one is Pison: that is it which surrounds the whole land of Havilah, where the gold is.

12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: that is it which surrounds the whole land of Cush.

14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which flows forward toward Asshur. And the fourth river, that is Euphrates.

Well, no sooner have we seen the creation of humans as the climax of God’s work in chapter 1 than we are apparently back near the beginning once again, only this time, humans arrive before animals! What’s going on? The clue for the reader is in John Darby’s helpful boldness in not translating the Hebrew words used here for God, Jehovah Elohim, whereas in chapter 1 he simply translates Elohim as God. That’s because there are passages in Genesis which call God simply Elohim and others which call him Jehovah or Jehovah Elohim. In fact Jehovah is a bad guess at this name of God. Hebrew script only gives consonants, and modern scholars are fairly sure the name is Yahwe. They also think that at some stage the passages using this name were separate from the others, and only stitched together by the editors of the book. That’s why we have two accounts of the creation of life, one from the so-called Priestly source (Genesis 1-2:3) and another, the non-Priestly source, starting at Gensis 2:4.The editors of Genesis quite often keep double accounts of the same incident, and use them as ways of adding different perspectives to their story.

So here we have a story about human bengs with a different perpective from chapter 1, a more earthy one, as we shall see. In this story the creature God makes first is called Adam, whose name is related to the dust of the earth (adama)and might properly be called dust-creature. Darby translates this as “Man” that is, “humankind” not to be confused with man meaning male person. There is no sexual distinction until God makes woman.  

The kind of chemical soup from which life may have developed

The kind of chemical soup from which life may have developed

The focus of this story is on the dust and the humans who are made of it. Nothing grows on the earth because there were no humans to till it! I have always found the image of the mist rising from the bare earth very evocative. In Scotland this happens in late autumn or early winter after the post-harvest ploughing. It signals the potential of the earth, as the author does in this passage. Then Jahwe God models a creature from the dust, as a sculptor might do with clay and breathes into its nostrils the breath of life. This does not make the creature into a mix of body and soul; it becomes a living soul, that is a sentient body, like other animals.

This is a very much in tune with modern evolutionary biology. Human beings like all living things are made from the same stuff (“dust”) as stars and planets. The basic components of the atom and many of the specific atoms and molecules of which the earth is composed, are also the basic components of life, in this case, human life. We cannot understand life if we do not study its components. This “materialist” account of life is balanced by the image of God animating the material by breathing into it. Evolutionary biologists have suggested that animate life sprung from the mixture of chemicals on the young earth, perhaps stimulated by electrical activity, but the bible image of God’s breathing is not thereby dismissed. The science has not yet proven its story of the origin of life, but when it has,  I will say, “Yes, that’s HOW God breathed the breath of life.” The biblical faith in God s creator is not affected by discoveries as to precisely how life originated.

The other agreement between this passage and evolutionary biology is that they both see humankind as having the same sort of life as animals. There is no hidden component that makes human beings different from animals. Philosphers and theologians who stated that animals have no souls were less perceptive than the Genesis author who saw all life as animated (directed by a soul) and sentient (able to feel pain and pleasure).

The garden is God’s park, designed for pleasure like the gardens of kings in the middle east, well-watered and fruitful, containing trees, shrubs and flowers. The location of the garden at the source of all the four rivers (that is, all the rivers of the world) is given as somewhere in the world people knew (the Tigris and Euphrates) but not in any particular nation; it is God’s place.

The Tree of Life is self-explanatory; it produces the seed of everlasting life. The Tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” needs explanation. It is NOT offering knowledge of morality. It is what is technically called a merism: as we might say, from A to Z;  it sets out a begiining and an end, or one thing and its opposite, and includes everything in between. It means “from good things to bad things” that is, everything. It is the Tree of the Knowledge of Everything, so the reader can imagine why God might want to keep it from prying hands.

The storyteller is carefully preparing for the main action of his plot.


32 But evening being come, when the sun had gone down, they brought to him all that were suffering, and those possessed by demons;

33 and the whole city was gathered together at the door.

34 And he healed many suffering from various diseases; and he cast out many demons, and did not suffer the demons to speak because they knew him.

35 And rising in the morning long before day, he went out and went away into a desert place, and there prayed.

36 And Simon and those with him went after him:

37 and having found him, they say to him, All seek you

38 And he says to them, Let us go elsewhere into the neighbouring country towns, that I may preach there also, as for this purpose I have come out.

"unclean" ebola victim gets help

“unclean” ebola victim gets help

This is another part of a ” Sabbath day in the life of Jesus” designed by the author( see blog 1615). In the first part he has preached and healed publicly with “authority,” before going into a house where he privately heals a woman with fever. Now Mark shows what happens in the evening. Once it’s dark and nobody can see what’s happening, the village brings its sick people to Jesus. During the day they would be hidden away, separated from the ordinary life of the commuity, some of them stigmatised as unclean. 

We should rememeber from Genesis chapter 1 that God included darkness and chaos into every 24 hours of his good creation. The creatures of the night are as inportant as the creatures of the day. Here the village’s creatures of night are brought to Jesus. He is ready to work in the darkness as in the light, ever prepared to stand with those who are unclean and cursed to bring them wholeness. He is always the crucified rescuer, the wounded healer, facing the power of the evil one who wants to rule the darkness. The evil spirits know him. This probably means they know he’s “The Lord,” the name believers gave to the risen Jesus. Throughout the gospel Mark shows Jesus raising people to life, as in this story. 

In the final part of the 24 hours, Mark shows his readers two more truths about Jesus:

1. He is not Superman. He draws strength, like other human beings, from his prayers to God. He is for Mark always the crucified and risen Lord of Life, but he is also always human, made of the dust of earth like all of us.

2. He refuses to become a local magic-man. He insists that his true task is to announce God’s saving justice in word and action to all of his people. He has “come out” not just from Nazareth, but from God, to do this job.

Mark’s 24 hour picture gives the reader a snapshot of Jesus’ whole ministry.  It is partly a Sabbath day, which foreshadows Jesus’  controversy with the Pharisees, and shows what Mark thought about the Sabbath law. God’s rest day is when he completes his creation by sharing his rest, his peace, with his creatures. Jesus’ urgent work communicates this “shalom.” The day ends in darkness in which Jesus contends with the evil one on behalf of needy men and women. On the next day, Jesus rises early to be with God, a foreshadowing of his resurrection.

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