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…

Making a Biblical Studies programme missional, part 3

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the Biblical Studies side of the new curriculum at Redcliffe College. Specifically, I’m aiming to inform and excite you about the way we are trying to make our teaching of Biblical Studies a thoroughly missional activity. Check out part 1 and part 2 of the series for an overview and introduction.

Having established a missional approach to the Bible and a foundational survey of the books of the Old and New Testaments in the first year, we then focus on some key texts in year two. By this stage we want students to be deepening their understanding of the content, interpretation and application of biblical texts.

As well as a biblical language, students have the option to take the following modules:

Missional texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of these two key Old Testament texts and consider how they relate to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

  1. The function of the book of Psalms and Genesis 1-11 as part of a missional reading of the Bible;
  2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Psalms and Genesis 1-11, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;
  3. Case-studies in exegeting Psalms and passages from Genesis 1-11;
  4. The contemporary application of Psalms and Genesis 1-11, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
For me, it is so important that students leave Redcliffe equipped with the Psalms. More than any other part of Scripture, the Psalms articulate life and give us a liturgy for all the experiences we may go through. We encourage the students to pray through the Psalms – a habit I hope they will adopt, enjoy and be shaped by. There are also some important and intriguing missiological questions in the Psalms, not least the role of the nations and the great eschatological visions of nations gladly worshipping the LORD.
Genesis 1-11 has often been treated as the background to God’s mission. In this module we explore the content of the text in depth and try to see how it can function missionally.

Missional Texts: Luke and Acts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of Luke’s contribution to the New Testament and consider how it relates to the thinking and practice of the church’s involvement in the mission of God.

This module covers:

1. The function of Luke-Acts as part of a missional reading of the Bible;

2. Key issues in understanding and interpreting Luke-Acts, including historical and cultural contexts, genre, structure, literary features and theological themes;

3. Case-studies in exegeting passages from Luke-Acts;

4. The contemporary application of Luke-Acts, especially in relation to the thinking and practice of mission.
The language of the descriptor is clearly very similar to the Psalms and Genesis 1-11 module. Luke and Acts was an obvious choice in that it spans at least two different genre, and is often referred to in the literature on mission.
Finally, in addition to these book-specific modules, we offer a hermeneutics module:
Interpreting the Bible in Intercultural Contexts

The module aims to enable students to analyse important aspects of historical and contemporary interpretation of the Bible, and consider biblical hermeneutics in relation to a variety of Western and non-Western cultural contexts.

This module covers:

1. Key periods and events in the history of Biblical interpretation (e.g. Jewish, early Christian, and Medieval exegesis; the hermeneutical impact of the Reformation and of the Enlightenment;

2. Major topics in contemporary hermeneutics (e.g. literary approaches and  the role of the reader;

3. Biblical interpretation in different cultural contexts (e.g. Latin American, Asian and African);

This is an opportunity for students to look at the bigger picture of biblical interpretation, but also explore issues of intercultural reading and contextualisation.

So, by the end of the second of their three-year bachelor’s degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts, students are delving deeply into some crucial biblical texts and becoming more sensitive and globally aware interpreters. Stay tuned for the final year…

A missional reading of Genesis ch1 v1

Noone I have come across writes as consistently as Brian Russell on the application of a missional hermeneutic to biblical texts. He recently posted some really interesting thoughts on the missional significance of the opening verse of the Bible. Here are some snippets:

Genesis 1:1 is crucial for a couple of reasons. First, it affirms that there is an active personal deity behind all that is. The creation is not the result of an impersonal force or forces. It is not an accident or the result of some cosmic battle between gods. God (Heb elohim) will later be identified specifically as Israel’s covenant God known as the LORD (Heb Yhwh). Second, though Genesis 1:1-2:3 explicitly challenges the theology of the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors, it remains staunchly international in focus and in scope. It is vital to make the simple observation that Israel’s Scripture opens with its more generic name for God (Heb elohim)… It is not until Genesis 2:4 that the reader of the Bible encounters God’s personal and relational name—Yahweh (typically rendered LORD in our English translations). There the form is Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God). In other words, Genesis 2:4 links explicitly elohim of Genesis 1:1 with the personal name of Israel’s God that was revealed to Moses at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 3 and 6). Why is this important? I think that it points to the missional intent of the Scriptures…

Read the full post.