OK, so let's get started. I remember the day in 1986 when I stood up before a fresh class of Friends Academy (Locust Valley, NY) 7th graders and started to teach Quakerism for the first time. And since the early Friends writings that had been so critical to me in returning to Christ were so inaccessible to young readers, I decided to just use the biblical narrative to introduce them to Quakerism. We started talking about the Bible as if it were just another book you would take off the shelf, and I surprised even me when I realized that it is a narrative that starts at the beginning of the creation and ends at the end of that same creation. It presents itself as if it were the complete story. 

Early Friends did not use this kind of language in discussing the Bible. Like others of their time they did not use that kind of language - describing the Bible as a "narrative" - that language is comfortable to me because of the reading I've done in "narrrative theology" and in particular in reading Stanley Hauerwas. But early Friends did seem to see the book as containing truths that needed to be "interiorized." But we'll get to that as we go.

I think the most important books of the Bible to Fox and early Friends were Genesis and the Gospel of John, so going over Genesis will take a while - especially the first several chapters. The Bible I use is the Jerusalem Bible, but I often check multiple translations when the translation is particularly important.

Genesis 1  - There are two accounts of the creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. There is so much in the first chapter, that I will just deal with it today. In the first God creates the universe and the earth through the power of his Word, and the first "thing" created is Light - not the light of the sun or the moon - those lights come later, on day four.  The separation of the waters below the dome of heaven and above it comes on day two, the gathering of the waters beneath the dome and the proliferation of the earth's vegetation comes on day three, the sun and moon and stars - necessary for calculating time and seasons - comes on day four, the teeming forth of life comes on day five, and then on day six, God creates the human species - both male and female - "in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them" (27). They are given the power to "conquer" the creation or "subdue" it, an authority early Friends saw as a power to both use and to care for, be responsible for. God rests after man is created.

For me the most interesting insights I've had on the first creation story are the following:

1. The creator in this story is fundamentally "other" that everything we can see. God is not created, not contingent in any way. But we are created and contingent, and there is no other way of our understanding any part of God's nature without accepting the lines that we are somehow "like" Him - male and female, we share qualities with God. Ludwig Feuerbach and later Karl Marx wrote that God was merely our "projection" of our human nature out onto the universe. The Bible supports this, and it will be for us one of the critical ways we come to understand anything about God or ourselves.

2. When you consider how ancient this literature is, it is amazing to me how profoundly "modern" it is - modern in the simultaneity of the creation of male and female, modern in the closeness to what evolutionary theory says about the order of things in the creation of the universe - not exact but close.

3. It gives us a view of "man" that is not easily charicatured. It claims for man a dignity and goodness that defies all that we know of man in the history that will unfold for him, but it shows us God's divine intention, the impetus and engine of the divine determination to redeem what he has created when it disappoints Him, a determination that we will see played out in the biblical narrative

So that is some of what I see in this chapter. I would love to know what others see that is important to them personally.

What does it mean to you that we are "created in God's image"?

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Comment by James C Schultz on 4th mo. 16, 2011 at 9:14pm

I love to look at common words and ask myself do they actually mean what I think they mean.  Doing this of course takes forever.  But if I am going to mine the bible for nuggets, that is what I do.  So I am afraid I am contemplating verses 1 & 2 which in a KJV read as follows:

Gen 1:1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Gen 1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

First I always wonder what it's the beginning of and since God apparently already existed I come to the conclusion that it's the beginning or mankind's/womankind's existence.  I next move on to the words heaven and earth.  The earth being described as without form and void I take to mean that we are not talking about the planet earth but something more akin to the material (atoms and such) world and maybe he heavens as the spiritual world or some aspect of it for our use.  I also think the deep and waters refer to the source of life and that it was from this source that the Spirit of God created the life of the rest of the chapter.   Or it could mean God created all the planets and the space to put them in.  Either one works for me. :)  I'll try to catch up with the rest of you.  Please don't go to fast.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 17, 2011 at 5:45pm

Who creates the furnishings of a dream? And what are they made of?

 

What does stuff look like without form? What does form look like without stuff?

 

The Jews of the Middle Ages... the Kabbalists, claiming to be speaking from earlier traditions... had it that God had no place

 

in which to put the world

 

until he opened a little hollow space in the middle of Him/Her Self (which was all there was where any such place could exist) and that was where the Beginning of all this happened.

 

The state-of-the-art cosmology of the times when this particular account took form... had it that there were waters above, waters below, and Earth formed when something separated them. Not necessarily anything like the purely secular physical material some moderns would like it to be; many versions of this had earth, sky, and sea as gods... the Hebrews, early on, were not talking about "one and only one God", but about one God transcending the others. One who was also the basic core of what it is to be a human being... although this was only implicit, at first.

Comment by Irene Lape on 4th mo. 18, 2011 at 6:25am

The Masoretic text of Genesis 1 has a good note on "man's" creation: "Man alone among living creates is gifted, like his Creator, with moral freedom and will. He is capable of knowing and loving God, and of holding spiritual communion with Him; and man alone can guide his actions in accordance with Reason. 'On this account he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty' (Maimonides)". These days we are often led to think about "man" as if we were just like all the other primates, but while DNA studies might say we are 98% similar, that 2% makes a WHOLE LOT of difference. Just think about it.

I think the "us" in verse 26 is meant to be a kind of royal "us"  but I think it's also been interpreted as representing the sense that there was a royal court of some kind in God's realm with angels and archangels; or it could be interpreted in a trinitarian way, with the "us"representing the Creator, Word and Spirit of God that was to infuse all people, or perhaps even "all" as the panenthesists think. 

Comment by jp on 4th mo. 18, 2011 at 1:39pm

Before the words, "Let there be light," there IS something present besides God or the Spirit of God:  the "waters."  So water is somehow present before the creation, before the light.  What does that mean?

 

I'm still pondering the meaning of "created in God's image."  I once was sure what that meant, but these days not so much.  {grin} 

 

Last comment before I go ponder the query Irene has posed about "image":  the idea of the "royal we" most like came FROM this passage, rather than the other way around, don't you think?

 

THANKS for beginning this!  I hope to follow along with you.

Comment by parise on 4th mo. 18, 2011 at 2:05pm
to be created in  God's image;  to know there was a beginning and a before the beginning.  the ability to say "let there be.."    the ability to bless.  the ability to look and find everything made very good.  the ability to rest.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 18, 2011 at 2:25pm

The "waters" were simply always there; the creation myths of the day were about making an inhabitable space within them.

 

'The royal we' comes in because a king is speaking for his nation. "We" fits in Genesis because it's literally "the gods" ("Elohim") who create the world.

 

Whether this was originally "just another name for God"-- of which there are several in these scriptures-- is moot. The Hebrews, overall, were probably not monotheists until the return of their governing elite from Babylon.

Comment by Sally Gillette on 4th mo. 19, 2011 at 12:22am

Thanks for doing this, Bible study, Irene. . .

I love the translation from the Five Books of Moses .

  "At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth, 

when the earth was wild and waste,

darkness over the face of Ocean, 

rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters -

God said:  "Let there be light! And there was light."

I'm not sure I've ever noticed that the Light was created before the Sun or the moon or the Stars.  What do folks think the Light is that God created?  Perhaps it was Christ, because afterward, there is "We."

Sally

Comment by Irene Lape on 4th mo. 19, 2011 at 8:05am
I so agree with you about the Schocken Bible. It is great! It is amazing how many times you can look at scripture and say, "Man, I never saw that!" Someone pointed out that the "waters" too were there and were illuminated when the Light was created - sources of life and light and nourishment.
Comment by David Carl on 4th mo. 20, 2011 at 6:35pm

Irene, you write, "Ludwig Feuerbach and later Karl Marx wrote that God was merely our "projection" of our human nature out onto the universe. The Bible supports this, and it will be for us one of the critical ways we come to understand anything about God or ourselves."

 

I would agree that we do a lot of "projecting" when it comes to God.  However, I define God in part as that which is beyond my capability of projecting.   I experience God most when I "project" the least.  Perhaps I could say that, whenever I think of God I am of course projecting (my thoughts).  But I realize that the projection is not the real thing.  Is there demonstrably a "real thing" there?  That of course is what sends (at least some) of our atheist/nontheist friends into fits of logic-chopping.   I believe that God is our word for what is beyond our capability to capture in words, but which we can nonetheless experience, particularly as we set aside our own "notions" as GF would say.

 

I like Marcus Borg's definition of God as "isness."  That again, for me, is only a partial and inadequate definition, which I think all such definitions must be.  At any rate, I hadn't heard anyone claim before that the Bible supports the "projection" theory, so I'll be interested in what you have to say about that!

 

In Friendship,

 

David. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 20, 2011 at 6:53pm

"Isness" is a good hint. As if to "See seeing."

 

I'd say the Bible supports "projecting" in the sense that it offers a wide range of different takes on what God is and how God operates, depending on who's describing and what particular ax he happens to be grinding. But as I said, people do this with everybody-- and particularly with anyone who rouses the ghosts of our childhood relation to parents. Which God, par excellence, does on a very large scale.

 

Of course there is a "There" here! It's looking out from under your eyebrows, among other things.

 

I don't know how atheists manage to miss it-- Except that "looking for what you're looking with" is not a logical process; it's more like the way you find your own big toe!

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