Genesis 1-11 and the Mission of God – what some scholars say

As we reach the final session of Redcliffe’s Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11 module, I am sharing a number of quotes for us to discuss. If you were in the class, which one or two would you want to discuss the most and why?

Kaiser, W. (2000) Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House

No one can charge the Old Testament with beginning its story in a chauvinistic way. Genesis 1-11 is decidedly universal in its scope and outlook… rather than being pro-Jewish or featuring Israel as God’s favored or pet nation… Genesis 1-11 begins with the original human couple, Adam and Eve, and moves on until seventy nations of the world are encompassed in the scope of its message (in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10).

The earth is filled with a multitude of peoples and nations by the time we finish the first eleven chapters of Genesis. All of this is the result of the blessing of God. (Kaiser, 2000, p15)

O’Collins, G. (2008) Salvation for All: God’s Other Peoples, Oxford: Oxford University Press

The opening chapters of Genesis apply to the entire human community: first, their creation through the goodness of God and then their fall into sin that has affected all subsequent generations. What we read in those chapters refers universally to all human beings, their origin, and their life in the presence of God. (O’Collins, 2008, p2)

Genesis expresses not only humanity’s inherent dignity (as created by God and endowed with God-like qualities) but also the mission that issues from that dignity. Human images of God manifest the divine rule on earth and have the privileged task of being stewards, continuing and completing God’s creative work by presiding in the divine name over the rest of creation. (O’Collins, 2008, p3)

In language that is as fresh as ever, the Genesis story drives home the point: far from enhancing their life, sin leaves everyman and everywoman less than they should really be, and ushers in destructive consequences… Flanked by suffering and pain, death signals the radical change that sin brings to the human condition. (O’Collins, 2008, p5)

Yes this curse also suggests the future possibility of human salvation… Human sin does not do away with divine mercy. (O’Collins, 2008, p6)

We can sum up this vision of all humanity with which the Bible starts. Even after their sin, human beings continue to display the divine image and likeness and to experience the loving concern of God. They must rely on God for everything, and hope for redemption to come. The universal benevolence of God brightens a situation darkened by human sin. While human guilt is universal, the divine love and concern are also universal. (O’Collins, 2008, p7)

On the covenant with Noah (and so, with the rest of creation):

The account was written/collected during a period in which Israel’s sense of national identity as the people of God was well established, yet they still held to the assertion that ‘God’s loving care extended to everyone.’ (O’Collins, 2008, p10)


Okoye, J. (2006) Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books

Israel enshrined in her religious tradition the awareness that the purposes of God enfold the entire creation and that somehow Israel holds brief for humanity. Creation, as portrayed in the myths, is God’s first act of redemption…

The cycle of rest, in imitation of God’s rest on the seventh day, is a perpetual reminder of the lordship of God over all creation. It is also a pledge that a time will come for God’s own just order, in which there will be no masters and slaves, no citizens and foreigners with unequal rights. In this new order, Israel and the nations will finally rest together in the rest of God. (Okoye, 2006, p34)

Glaser, I. (2005) The Bible and Other Faiths: What does the Lord Require of Us?, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press

On Noah’s covenant:  The first thing the Bible teaches us about people of other faiths is that they are human beings, in God’s land and under God’s rainbow, just like us. (Glaser, 2005, p55, author’s italics)

On the perfect numbers of Gen. 10:  The whole chapter, then, tells us that this great variety of peoples, each with its own land and culture, is good, and part of God’s creation. (Glaser, 2005, p55)

When you look at the people of different faiths around you, what can you see (a) of the image of God and (b) of the results of the fall? Is this any different from what you can see in Christians in your area? (Glaser, 2005, p56, author’s italics)

What can we learn about religion from Gen. 1-11? (Glaser, 2005, pp62-65)

1. Humans need a way to God

2. Sacrifice is one way

3. Religion can cause violence

4. Babylonian religion is criticized

5. We can make two fundamental religious mistakes: thinking we can become the same as God & thinking that God is far away and that we can find a way to reach him

6. Two pictures of true faith – rest and walking

What can we learn about communication? (Glaser, 2005, pp65-66)

Whatever the historical relationship between the Genesis stories and those of the surrounding nations, we can see the writer of Genesis using

  • familiar literary forms to express ideas – people would enjoy the language and rhythms of the stories;
  • stories to challenge stories – anyone could see that the Babel story mocked the story of Marduk’s temple;
  • images people would understand – everyone knew that there were stories about gods battling with waters, so they would immediately see the implications of God’s control of the flood;
  • appropriate thought categories – people would understand the story of the serpant and the fall much better than any abstract discussion of temptation and sin.

Wright, C. (2010) The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical theology of the Church’s mission, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House

Where can the mission of God go from here? What can God do next? Whatever it may be, it will have to tackle a broad redemptive agenda. Genesis 1 – 11 poses a cosmic question to which God must provide a cosmic answer. The problems so graphically spread before the reader in Genesis 1 – 11 will not be solved just by finding a way to get human beings to heaven when they die. Death itself must be destroyed if the curse is to be removed and the way opened to the tree of life. The love and power of God must address not only the sin of individuals, but the strife and strivings of nations; not only the need of human beings but also the suffering of animals and the curse on the ground. (Wright, 2010, pp65-66)