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)

Chris Wright on Noah and the mission of God

In our journey through Genesis 1-11 on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme we have reached the account of Noah.

Here is what Chris Wright in The Mission of God says about the covenant God makes with Noah in Gen. 9

The narrative of the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 8:15-9:17 is the first explicit reference to covenant-making in the biblical text… The Noachic covenant establishes at least two foundational points that are relevant to the rest of the biblical concept of mission.

God’s commitment to all life on earth. In the context of God’s radical judgment on the comprehensive nature of human sin (repeatedly portrayed as “violence and corruptions”), God still commits himself to the created order itself and the preservation of life on the planet. Although we live on a cursed earth, we also live on a covenanted earth. There is an unambiguous universality about God’s covenantal self-commitment here: His promise is not only with humanity but also with “every living creature on earth” (Gen 9:10). This Noachic covenant provides the platform for the ongoing mission of God throughout the rest of human and natural history, and thereby also, of course, the platform for our own mission in participation with his. Whatever God does, or whatever God calls us to do, there is a basic stability to the cotnext of all our history.

This does not of course mean that God would never again use his natural creation as the agent of his judgment as well as his blessing (as the rest of the Old Testament amply testifies). But it does set limits to such actions within history. Apart from the final judgment of God that will bring an end to fallen human history as we presently know and experience it on this sinful planet, the curse will never again be expressed in an act of comprehensive destruction as the flood. This is God’s earth, and God is also covenantally committed to its survival, just as later revelation will show us that God is also covenantally committed to its ultimate redemption. Even the final judgment will not mean the end of the earth as God’s creation but the end of the sinful condition that has subjected the whole of creation to its present frustration. Our mission then takes place within the framework of God’s universal promise to the created order. This is a framework that gives security and scope to all our mission: security because we operate within the parameters of God’s commitment to our planet, and scope because there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah. The rainbow promise spans whatever horizon we can ever see.

The ecological dimension of mission. The language with which God addresses Noah at the end of the flood clearly echoes Genesis 1. In a sense this is a fresh start for all creation. So Noah and his family are blessed and instructed to fill the earth and (although not with the same phrase) to have dominion over it. The creation mandate is renewed. The human task remains the same-to exercise authority over the rest of the creation, but to do so with care and respect for life, symbolized in the prohibition on eating animal blood (Gen. 9:4). So there is a human mission built into our origins in God’s creation and God’s purpose for creation. To care for creation is in fact the first purposive statement that is made about the human species; it is our primary mission on the planet. The covenant with Noah effectively renews this mission, within the context of God’s own commitment to creation. (pp326-327, his italics)

Here are a few questions to get you thinking.

  • Is our reading of the Bible so focused on humanity that we miss what it says about God’s purposes for the wider creation?
  • What do you make of God making a covenant with all of creation, and not just humans?
  • What do you think of Wright’s point that, ‘there is nothing and no place on earth that lies outside the writ of God’s covenant with Noah’? How does it rebuke or encourage you as you engage in God’s mission?
  • How does Wright’s section on ecology inform discussions on creation care? To what extent do we treat creation care as peripheral to mission?

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below…

Mission and Genesis 1-11

The first part of Genesis (indeed, of the Bible!) is often neglected in Bible and mission writings. Is Gen. 1-11 merely a backdrop or prelude to Abraham’s call which is when the story of God’s mission really gets going in Gen. 12?

There are writers who do reflect on Gen. 1-11 missiologically (e.g., Ida Glaser in her book The Bible and Other Faiths or Brian Russell in his blog, to name just two). While taking a look at the website for Review and Expositor journal today I came across an issue from 2006 on Genesis 1-11 which features a couple of interesting looking articles, which will provoke thought, sympathy and disagreement: Bible and Mission MA students take note!

Missiological Thoughts Prompted by Genesis 10 by Isam Ballenger
The table of nations, Genesis 10, represents the post-history of Noah and his family with the fulfillment of the command given to be fruitful and multiply and the prehistory of Abraham and his family who are to bless all peoples on earth. Fulfillment, rather than a culmination, appears to be preparatory for what is yet to come; history appears to be prologue, attesting to the sovereignty and love of God and claiming time as an integral factor for mission. The peoples of this chapter are not without a relationship to God, raising the question about the relationship of all nonchosen peoples to God. Assuming God initiates relationships, i.e., mission occurs first in God, relationship assumes new dimensions, becomes more inclusive, less individualistic, and thus more demanding of the disciple of Jesus Christ.

God Came Down . . . and God Scattered: Acts of Punishment and Acts of Grace? by Nancy deClaissé-Walford
Throughout the stories in Genesis’ primeval prologue, humankind’s persistent sinfulness is met with punishment but also with acts of grace on the part of God. The last story, the Tower of Babel is usually understood as the ultimate act of disobedience on the part of humanity. In this interpretation, God punishes the people by scattering them over the face of the earth. There is no act of grace. Thus the primeval prologue ends in darkness; God moves to “Plan B” and decides to reveal Godself to humanity through a single family, that of Abram ben Terah. But what if we understood the scattering at the Tower as an act, not of punishment, but of grace on the part of God—an act that allowed humankind to fulfill the creation command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28)? How might that inform and affect our reading of the primeval prologue and the ancestral stories?