Thursday, April 10, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Second Day

This week we turn to the second day of creation as the second installment of Drulogion's Hexameron. Let's ask of Genesis 1:6-8 how God creates, what God creates, and what purpose God has in creating, with an eye as always to the character of this creative God who re-creates in Christ.
[6] And God said, "Let there be a firmament between the waters to separate water from water." [7] So God made the firmament and separated the waters under the firmament from the waters above it. And it was so. [8] God called the firmament "heaven." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
How does God create?
God separates.

God creates by separating. The chaotic waters over which the spirit of God was hovering prior to the first day (v. 2) are separated into two bodies: the upper waters and lower waters. These chaotic waters return as the doors of heaven are opened in the story of the flood (Gen 6-8). However, the point is not to dwell on the threat of these upper waters, but rather on God's gracious act of speaking into existence a firmament -- a hard translucent surface -- between the upper waters and the lower waters. God has created a mediating space which holds at bay the powers of chaos in this world. God has said No to that which could overwhelm his creation. In so doing, God has said Yes to creation.

This is not the only mention of separating in the creation account. God also separated light from the darkness on the first day. Parallel to this, on the fourth day God creates the sun, moon and stars to separate day and night. On the third day, God gathers the waters in order to separate them from the land. God creates by separating. God does not just create an undifferentiated blob. There is no monism here, where good and evil and everything else are folded into one system of nature. Rather, God creates with definite intentions which require discriminating judgments. God separates the good from evil, and differentiates between goods.

This motif of separation does not end with the establishment of the created order, but persists in God's covenant history, as God separates his people from among the nations. God calls his people to be separate as he is separate. God re-creates by separating a people to be like him and to serve him so that his creation will be with him.

What does God create?
God separates the waters.

Now there are really two things in view in the passage: the heavens and the seas. This is confirmed when on the parallel day (the fifth day), God creates the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. And in the strictest sense, God creates only the firmament/heaven on the second day, for the waters are already around (cf. v. 2). So the object of God's act of making is the firmament.

But we are focusing here on God's act of separating, the object of which is the waters. God separates the waters. The separation of the waters is the function of the firmament. And so the separation of the waters is the outcome of the second day. The good news of the second day is that God brings the waters into the scope of his creative will. There is a sense in which the waters -- in all their chaos and danger -- are not created by God. They are opposed to everything that God is for in creation. And yet by separating them and giving them a place, God identifies himself as the sovereign creator over them. God treats the chaotic waters as a creature, a creature with a place in his ordered creation.

When God creates and when God re-creates, water is involved. God makes that which threatens his creation part of his creative purpose. In Jesus Christ, God takes sin and death to himself in order to bring about righteousness and life. Those who are baptized into his death are given the promise of also sharing in his resurrection. The waters of Genesis 1 are not necessarily a type of the waters of baptism. But they are at least a sign of God's creative use of anti-creative forces -- God's use of death to bring about life.

Why does God create?
God separates the waters so that we may live.

We have already been hinting at the purpose of God's separation of the waters: the protect his good creation from chaotic forces. God separates the waters so that we may live. Before creating birds or fish or land animals or breathing the breath of life into Adam, God is making a world safe for life. The waters and the heavens which separate them are the conditions for life.

We often think of water as signifying cleansing. And it does. But water only cleanses because it is threatens. Water is dangerous. It floods, it drowns, it destroys. Yes, we are washed ... but in the blood of the Lamb! God's re-creation of us in Christ is not just a matter of cleansing; it is a matter of life and death. God cleanses us, makes us new, re-creates us, by putting us to death. This would be bad news, if it were not the creator we are dealing with here -- the one who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not though they were (Rom 4:17).

Any thoughts?
  • Is it right to treat the waters as threatening?
  • What other instances of God separating come to your mind? What do they teach us?
  • What other theological themes emerge from the motif of water?

Next Week: The Second Day


Bob MacDonald said...

"God differentiated the human between male and female" - there is no separation here. The word bdl is used 5 times vv 4, 6, 7, 14, 18.

>>waters as threatening?
>>other instances of God separating?
>>What other ...emerge from the motif of water?

Good questions
1. and there was no more sea
2. the veil divides (bdl) between the holy and the holy of holies - this is critical imagery for the NT (cf Hebrews).
bdl is used as separation between clean and unclean - it is rare in the TNK - hence important not to put it where it isn't.
3. water will become a motif of life in the psalms (esp 1, 42, 65 but also negative 46, 69 etc). Also a motif for the beloved of the Song - where the tension is likewise not absent (Many waters cannot quench love).

What is the Greek equivalent of BDL? Does it occur in the NT?

JohnLDrury said...

bob - good point on male/female - differentiation is not separation, and therefore distracting to mention them among the others. i fixed that in the main post. thanks!

nice additional stuff on bdl.


vanilla said...

It seems you suggest a dualism, i.e. God/good vs. matter/evil, coexistent and coeternal. I think this generates more problems than it resolves. The Genesis is reduced to the same sort of "creation" an artist is engaged in when he puts brush to canvas; yet someone or something else provides the materials. I have to go with God's creation of all things ex nihilo.

The separation ultimately to be avoided at all costs is the eternal separation of the self from God. Christ separated from His glory that we might avoid that fate; and in his resurrection His Glory was reclaimed and we are reconciled to God! He Lives!

JohnLDrury said...

Vanilla -

I do not believe in an eternally pre-existent matter or chaos (the dualism which you say I suggest). I believe in creation ex nihilo. When I state that the "chaos was already around," I am making a purely exegetical point: it appears in v. 2 prior to the second day. That does not mean I think it existed eternally alongside God; it just means that the question of the existence of the chaotic waters is not dealt with in v. 6-8 (and perhaps not even in v. 1-2 -- creation ex nihilo does not stand alone on the exegesis of Gen 1). I believe God creates the materials and fashions them, but that notion requires the systematizing of a lot of biblical data and some arguments to boot.

However, since you brought the issue up, I also don't believe God directly creates evil, but occasions evil by creating good. He gives the anti-existence power of evil a certain sort of existence by creating his good creation. This view is trying to think of creation ex nihilo without a monism that assigns some instrumental value to evil and without a dualism that posits an eternal evil alongside God.

Does this help clarify both what I was getting at in the post and my broader position?


pastorchris'place said...

Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Time and Space, uses a similar structure for talking about the events of Genesis: creation then differenciation. This upholds ex nihilo creation and recognizes the separations you are highlighting.

This series of posts is very enlightening, especially when your stated purpose is to interpret Genesis in light of the New Creation.

Keep it coming.

vanilla said...

Thank you, John. Well clarified and I'm sure that my beliefs and yours are the same in this matter. And I do appreciate your statement on the origin of evil.

pastorchris'place said...


LXX uses forms of "diaxorizomai" (sorry, Greek font won't paste here) in translating bdl in Genesis 1.

Yes it is used in the NT, once -- in Luke 9.33.

I will have to look into it further for Greek terms used more frequently to convey the idea to separate.

Bob MacDonald said...

What can such separation mean in the context of the transfiguration? Law from grace? First creation from second creation? I am known in the difference - expressing such is very difficult.

pastorchris'place said...


It is actually the verb for "they left" referring to Moses and Elijah. It is not used in a separation sense. That's why more research is needed into what NT word is the equivalent for bdl.

Bob MacDonald said...

certainly - more research - nonetheless the hapax is interesting. Depart as separate is used a dozen times in the NT (without the dia) - Hebrews 7:26 clearly reflects one of the earlier uses. The word seems to hold the idea of severance and becomes used to indicate divorce or its impossibility (Romans 8:35).