CREATION TIME: Creation: the biblical version

by
04 September 2008

“WHAT would Jesus drive” was a very successful campaign to make Christians think about pollution and consumption. They were invited to apply their values to a situation that Jesus did not face, and ask what he would have done.

What Jesus thought about the creation is nowhere set out in the Gospels. Since this is the most pressing question of our times, we have to reconstruct what he and the first Christians could have believed, if we are to make a Bible-based and characteristically Christian contribution to the current debate.

THE STORIES of creation and Eden form the begin­ning and the end of the Bible story as Christians read it. Genesis describes how things went wrong, and Revela­tion shows how they were put right again. In Genesis, human beings lost access to the tree of life; in Revelation, this most fundamental gift was restored to them (Revelation 2.7; 22.14).

“Our first disobedience” concerned knowledge and how it should be used. Nothing could be more relevant to our present situation, but in Genesis the disobed­ience is described as choosing the wrong tree. All bib­lical creation discourse works like this: the fruit repre­sented a way of knowing and being, and an attitude towards the Lord and the creation.

The story of creation is the greatest parable in the Bible, and Jesus reminded his disciples that parables did not make their meaning clear to everyone. Their true meaning was hidden from literalists, people who could see and hear, but not perceive and understand (Matthew 13.10-17). “Understanding” the parables came with the gift of Wisdom, and rejecting Wisdom brought its own punishment, since people were no longer able to “see”. The tree of life was the symbol of Wisdom. By choosing the other tree, people became unable to see.

The Temple

In the time of Jesus, Jews thought about the world in terms of the temple in Jerusalem, which shaped how they thought about the creation and their place in the creation. The temple was the focus of their worship, which represented and established how people related to the Creator and to the creation and to each other.

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Study of the Old Testament has tended to emphasise the sacred history and neglect its other aspects. The fourth commandment has two forms: one says observe the Sabbath to remember Egypt (Deuteronomy 5.12-15); the other says observe the Sabbath to be in har­mony with the work of the Creator (Exodus 20.8-11). This latter is the neglected aspect.

The temple in Jerusalem, and Moses’s tabernacle of the desert tradition, represented the creation, and so crea­tion theology is temple theology. The Genesis story of the six days of creation was related to the ceremonial building of the tabernacle/temple which was in two parts, divided by the veil. Each day represented one stage in the building.

The outer part, which became the great hall of the temple, represented the visible material world (the gar­den of Eden) and was decorated with trees and flowers (1 Kings 6.29). This corresponds to the nave in a tradi­tionally shaped church building. The inner part of the temple was the holy of holies, the invisible world of God and the angels (heaven), and this corresponds to the choir and sanctuary of a traditionally shaped church building, which is often decorated with angels. “Creator of all things visible and invisible” assumes this temple tradition of the two parts of the creation, as does “Change and decay in all around I see. O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

The plan for the tabernacle was revealed to Moses on Sinai (Exodus 25.9), and the plan for the temple was revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28.19). In the time of Jesus, they believed that when Moses was in the cloud on Sinai for six days (Exodus 24.16), he saw the six-day vision of the creation which is recorded in Genesis 1. The Lord told Moses to replicate this in the tabernacle. The shape of the tabernacle/temple and the under­stand­ing of creation were revealed to Moses when he stood in the presence of the Lord. These ways of think­ing were taught to Israel and then expressed in life and worship. The shape of our church buildings makes a statement about our worldview.

All temple worship related the creation to God — praise, thanksgiving, asking for forgiveness — and in the time of Jesus, the whole creation was seen as the temple and all people as the priests. Philo, the great Jewish teacher in Alexandria in the time of Jesus, said that the praises in this temple were the silent thoughts of all pure minds, so that earth could join heaven in worshipping the Creator. This was the hymn St John described in his vision (Revelation 5.13-14): the praise of all creation.

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THOUGHTS expressed in speech effected the creation. In Genesis, God spoke, and the creation took shape. In the time of Jesus, it was said that the breath of life that transformed Adam from a man of dust into a living being showed itself as the power of speech. Adam then expressed his dominion over the animals by naming them. The Bible storytellers knew that our attitude to the creation is shaped by the way we speak about it. In one very important sense, people create by how they think and speak, and this is determined by the words available to them.

If there are only a few words to choose from, we are limited in what we can think and express. George Orwell described a frightening 1984, when thought was controlled by reducing the words available for use. If only one way of thinking was allowed, then language had to be altered to Newspeak so that words for other ideas were not there. Other ways of thinking made no sense because nobody understood the strange words found in old books.

The Bible is full of words and ideas that are now almost lost. If we are left with only the vocabulary of economics or politics, they become the only possible ways to speak about the environment. If we restore the language of the Bible and speak it with confidence, this brings new vocabulary to contemporary creation discourse, a Christian voice. Nobody doubts any more that the crisis has spiritual roots: we all know what is happening and something of what could be done. The real problem lies in human hearts; it is spiritual.

TEMPLE-SHAPED THOUGHT about the creation begins with Day One. A translation of Genesis 1.5 that says “the first day” rather than “Day One” is not accur­ate, and a vital concept is missing. Day One is the key to the world-view of the temple. It corresponded to the holy of holies, the Kingdom, and was the state of Unity underlying all the visible creation.

“The first day” implies a temporal sequence, followed by “second day” and so forth, and makes the creation something that happened only in the past. The people of Jesus’s time, however, knew that the origin of crea­tion, Day One, was outside time, and that the visible creation continually comes forth from the Creator who holds all things together. The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to the “mystery of existence”, meaning the wonder of the source of life. Some rabbis said Day One meant the Creator at unity with the creation, and St Paul saw this as the goal of all creation, when God was again “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28), made possible by the work of Christ who holds all things together (Colossians 1.17).

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In the temple, Day One was the holy of holies, which housed the golden chariot throne of the Lord (1 Chron­icles 28.18). Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned there, amidst the heavenly host who were praising the Lord and say­ing that the whole earth was full of his glory (Isaiah 6. 1-3). St John saw the throne, and heard the heavenly host extolling the One who created all things (Revela­tion 4.11). The name Yahweh (which ap­pears in En­glish Bibles as the Lord) means “the One who causes to be”, the Creator, and not the familiar “Jehovah, great I AM”. The Lord reigns on the throne, and the holy of holies is the Kingdom in the midst (Luke 17.21).

SINCE Day One is unity, the angels are, in a way we cannot fully understand, part of the unity. We perceive them as distinct, and even name them, but they are all aspects of the One. The angels and their praises are at the heart of the creation, not just at the beginning (Job 38.4-7), but here and now. They are how the Bible de­scribes the forces of nature — all one great system, ex­pressions of the invisible powers of the Creator. Tradi­tional theology describes them as the Energies of God which we can know, in contrast with the Essence of God, which is beyond our comprehension.

The Benedicite exhorts them all to praise the Lord: angels, powers, winds, seasons; and then the visible creation, the trees, birds and animals. St Francis, too, called on all creatures to join with humankind and praise their God and King. What we call the natural order, and formulate in, for example, the laws of physics, was once described as angels acting in obedience to their Creator, the angel of the thunder, for example, always following the angel of the light­ning, and Uriel revealing the movements of the stars.

Singing is part of our worship, because angels sing. The choir in a traditional church building is in the area that corresponds to the holy of holies. In Lincoln cathedral, and in many other places, angel musicians are depicted in the choir. We join with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” to proclaim the great and glorious name, and we affirm our belief in the mean­ing of that name, that the Lord is the One who causes to be, and that heaven and earth are full of his glory. The Bible often mentions the “new song”, better trans­lated “renewing song” (e.g. Psalm 96; Isaiah 42.10; Revelation 5.9-10), as the Kingdom is established and the creation renewed. Praising the Creator accompanies and enables the renewal. When an animal or plant becomes extinct, the praise is diminished.

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In the time of Jesus, Jews believed that fallen angels destroyed the earth and could not praise the Lord. As the Kingdom was established on earth, St John saw the saints rewarded and the destroyers of the earth de­stroyed (Revelation 11.15-18). The hosts of the Lamb sang a “new song” (Revelation 14.3) as the earth was first judged and then renewed.

The Six Days

On the second day, time began. The Lord created the firmament to separate heaven and earth, represented by the veil of the temple. In Jesus’s time, the red, blue, purple, and white of its complex fabric were explained as the four elements from which the world was made. Matter veiled the glory of the Lord from human eyes. In a traditionally shaped church building, this is repre­sented by the rood screen that marks the meeting of earth and heaven.

The great blessing that Aaron and all the high priests was that Israel would be able to “see” beyond the veil, as Isaiah had done, and know the light of the Lord’s presence at the heart of creation. “May the Lord make his face/presence [the same word in Hebrew] shine on you, and be gracious to you . . . and give you peace” (Numbers 6.25-26). This is why the early Christian greeting was “Grace to you and peace from God. . .” (Romans 1.7; 1 Corinthians 1.3; and the opening of all Paul’s letters).

“Peace”, shalom, is a temple/creation theology word, meaning everything in its intended place in God’s plan: wholeness, integrity, justice, as well as peace in our modern sense. Peace was often coupled with “right­eousness”, meaning the process to restore or maintain peace. We hear nowadays of restorative justice, a simi­lar idea. The Righteous One does what is necessary to restore and maintain peace. Righteousness was often coupled with “justice”, the choice of action necessary to achieve righteousness and thus peace.

The angels, sometimes called “sons of God”, main­tained the harmony/peace of creation. When Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5.9), he was using the angel imagery of temple theology to describe His followers. He also said that the pure in heart would see God, that is, see beyond the veil to the glory of His presence (Matthew 5.8). The Bethlehem angels linked praising God to peace on earth (Luke 2.14), as the glory of the Lord shone [through the veil] into the darkness. It is ironic that the movement which rejected God from its world view was known as the enlightenment.

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The wise teachers knew that the vision of the Lord was central to Israel’s identity and world view. The name Israel was said to mean “the one who sees God”, and so Proverbs 29.18, translated literally, says: “When there is no prophetic vision, the people unravel.” When the Lord is not visible in the midst of his people’s life and world view (the reason Moses had to build the taber­nacle in the first place, Exodus 25.9), everything falls apart. This is why the prophet Haggai warned the re­turned exiles they would never prosper if they did not first rebuild the temple in their midst (Haggai 1.2-11).

ON THE OTHER DAYS of creation, God separated sea from land and then caused vegetation, represented in the tabernacle/temple by the table of cereal offerings; God set lights in the heaven, represented by the seven-branched lamp; God caused fish, birds and animals, represented by the altar of sacrifice; and as the climax of creation, God created the human, represented by the high priest. There were variations in the detail of this system of parallels, but it was widely known that the temple represented the days of creation.

In the beginning, God “created” — a Hebrew verb that is never used of human activity. People can “make” or “form” or “bring forth” — the other verbs used in the creation story — but only God creates. The Hebrew word is linked in sound and meaning to the Hebrew words for “binding” and “covenant” — a glimpse of how creation was envisaged.

Everything — the visible natural world, human society and the invisible world of the angels — was part of one system created by God. Bonds held everything together and joined the visible world to God at the centre. Any action that broke the bonds was called sin, and so human conduct could destroy the system. Nowadays there is talk of ecosystems and global systems, and the impact of human lifestyle choices on the environment. The meaning is the same, but heaven and earth have so often been separated in contemporary thinking.

When everything was “without form and void”, the Spirit of God moved. She fluttered over the unformed state, and then the unique activity of the Creator bound all creation into the great covenant bond. The Spirit, sometimes called Wisdom, was beside the Creator, “holding all things together in harmony”, according to the Greek translation of Proverbs 8.30.

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In the Old Testament, the creation covenant has many names: the everlasting or eternal covenant (e.g. Genesis 9.16; Isaiah 24.5); or the covenant of peace (e.g. Num­bers 25.12; Isaiah 54.10). It was imagined as a system of bonds holding each part of the creation in its place (the covenant of “peace”) and joining earth to heaven (the covenant of eternity). It was “the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3).

The priests had to maintain this covenant, to keep everything at peace and link heaven and earth. They had to give true teaching, because sin broke the bonds of the covenant whether done in ignorance or deliber­ately. Breaking away from God was not seen as libera­tion but as dangerous deprivation, losing touch with the source of life and renewal.

Priests who gave false teaching destroyed the covenant (Malachi 2.4-9). They were the Lord’s messengers/angels — it is the same Hebrew word — and false teaching made them the fallen angels who destroyed the earth.

THE SIX DAYS of creation also represented the six eras of history, followed by the seventh that would be the time of the Kingdom, the Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4.9). The sixth day was the era of human beings, and at the end of it everything would be very good, just as God had seen the finished crea­tion (Genesis 1.31). During the sixth day, the work of creation was being completed. When Jesus was critic­ised for healing on the Sabbath, his answer implied this other understanding of the Sabbath. While there were sick and needy people, the creation was not yet “very good”, and so Jesus said: “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5.17).

ON THE SEVENTH DAY, God rested. This was not a picture of maximum output; enough was enough. Knowing when to stop was part of the revelation, and the Sabbath commandment included human activity in the divine pattern: in the weekly pattern of work, because rest was a gift from God; and in the pattern of human history, because unceasing and limitless pro­duc­tion was not part of the vision. We work until everything is very good, until the covenant of peace is fulfilled. Nowadays we speak of a sustainable state. Sometimes this appears as “sustainable development”, but for Christians this can only be development until need is met, not unlimited growth to satisfy human greed. “Greenwash” can be deceptive.

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Adam

In the time of Jesus, the books in the Old Testament had not yet been defined, and several Adam stories were known that are not in the Bible. New Testament writers allude to them, and they will be included here. Adam means a human being, and the stories about Adam are reflections on what it means to be human. The feminine form of the word “Adam” is Adamah, which means the soil. This was Adam’s mother; he was taken out from her (Genesis 3.19), but his sin brought a curse on her (Genesis 3.17) and she could no longer feed him without pain. King Uzziah “loved the soil” (2 Chronicles 26.10), and his kingdom prospered.

The human was created as the image of God, “after the likeness”, male and female (Genesis 1.27). The Hebrew word “likeness” means the invisible reality of God, and the Hebrew word “image” is elsewhere used of statues in temples. The male-and-female was the image of God in the temple of creation, and so Jesus taught that “serv­ing one of the least” was serving the Lord (Matt. 25.40). This is the basis for all Christian social action, and especially now, as the poor of the earth are those first affected by environment degradation and climate change.

Jesus, like Adam, was described as the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation (Colossians 1.15). Adam was told by God to be fruitful and multi­ply, to fill the earth, subdue it, and to have dominion over other forms of life (Genesis 1.28). The commands to Adam should be interpreted in the light of Jesus, the new Adam.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” are difficult words. They describe how the male-and-female works with God on the sixth day to complete the creation so that everything is very good. Perhaps we should think rather of: “bear fruit, be great and fulfil the earth.” “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof”, with the male-and-female promoting and enabling that fullness. Isaiah heard the seraphim singing: “The full­ness of the whole earth is his glory” (Isaiah 6.3, trans­lating literally). At the end of the sixth day of the week, the second Adam said: “It is completed” (John 19.30).

The Hebrew word “subdue” implies binding into ser­vice, and “have dominion” means to rule firmly and keep peace (as in 1 Kings 4.24), words best understood in their covenant context: the powers of creation incor­porated into the covenant and the creation at peace. It was the role of the male-and-female to maintain this state. Adam ruled as God’s representative, and so when Ezekiel saw the Glory of the Lord, he saw the likeness of Adam enthroned (Ezekiel 1.26). The powers, both supernatural and political, tried to rebel, but the Lord’s anointed had to restrain them. (Psalms 82.1; 2.7).

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“When (God) brings the firstborn into the world, he says: “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1.6), identifies Jesus as Adam the firstborn, but alludes to a story not in the Bible. When Adam was created, God commanded all the angels to worship and serve Adam, his Image. This was Adam with the powers bound into his service, corresponding to “subdue” in Genesis. Satan refused to serve the Image of God, and so St Michael and his angels drove Satan and his host from heaven (Revelation 12.7-9).

In the time of Jesus, they said Satan took revenge by planting the forbidden tree in Eden and scheming to have Adam driven out. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, he asked if He would at last serve him, and so rule the world on Satan’s terms. The new Adam again refused, because there was only one way to have dominion over the earth (Luke 4.5-8). St Mark says that in the desert, Jesus was with the beasts and the angels served Him (Mark 1.13), an allusion to the powers of creation serving Adam.

ADAM was set in the garden to “till it and keep it” (Genesis 2.15), Hebrew words with temple asso­ciations. They also mean “to serve the liturgy and preserve the teachings”, and people in the time of Jesus knew this was their real meaning. Adam the male-and-female was the original high priest who had worn garments of glory, but these were exchanged for garments of skin — mortal bodies — when they were driven out of Eden. The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls prayed that one day they would be restored to all the glory of Adam.

There is no biblical Hebrew word for “steward”. Adam the steward is an idea imported into the text, and with it, all notions of a business ar­range­ment in ruling the creation. Adam was to lead the worship of the creation, and actions in creation were worship of the Creator.

Ezekiel the prophet-priest described an Adam-like figure thrown from Eden (Ezekiel 28.12-9). The mixed language shows the figure was male-and-female, wearing the jewels of a high priest, created wise and perfect as the seal that secured the bonds of creation. The language echoes Gene­sis, and shows how the figure had been cor­rupted: it grew great in trade, filled (the world) with violence, corrupted its wisdom and so its temple/creation was no longer a holy place. Un­right­eous trade is a recurring theme in temple/creation theology.

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The two trees

THE SECOND STAGE of the creation story has the twofold Adam formed from dust. The Lord God breathed into the male-and-female which then began to live. In the time of Jesus, they said the Lord God took the male-and female into the Garden of Eden as high priest, and allowed Adam to eat from any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then the Lord God took one of Adam’s ribs and from it formed a woman. After this, Adam the male-and-female human becomes man and woman. The Hebrew word for “rib” can also mean “side”, and some said that Adam was divided into two and Eve was his “other half”.

Philo, who lived at the same time as Jesus, con­trasted the two states: the heavenly Adam in the image of God, and the Adam of dust. The hu­man was a mixture of the corruptible dust and the incorruptible, never just a part of the animal creation. Even after leaving Eden, human life was the image of God, and more important than animal life (Genesis 9.5-6). St Paul contrasted the Adam from dust and the Adam from heaven (1 Corinthians 15.42-50), when he taught that resurrection meant the state of the original Adam.

The tree of life, Adam’s intended food, was the symbol of Wisdom that gave long life, true wealth, honour and peace (Proverbs 3.13-18). In the time of Jesus, they said the perfumed anoint­ing oil once used in the temple imitated the true anointing oil expressed from the tree of life. It was the sacrament of Wisdom/the Spirit, which held all creation together in harmony.

Isaiah described the power of this anointing oil. The Spirit of the Lord, he said, was the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, know­ledge and the fear of the Lord. The anointed one was perfumed [what the Hebrew actually says] with the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11.2-3). This anointing changed the human mind, sometimes described as opening the eyes. Anointed ones [that is what “Christian” means] saw things dif­ferently and so thought differently. They were transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12.2), and carried the fragrance of the Anointed One everywhere (2 Corinthians 2.14).

The anointed high priest of creation had to main­tain righteousness, that is, to preserve the covenant of creation. He was the Righteous One. Jesus was called the Righteous One and the Author of Life (Acts 3.14) — high-priestly Adam titles used by the first Christians. Jesus was also “a priest like Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7.15), a name meaning “king of righteousness” (Hebrews 7.2). In their original temple context, all these describe the one who upholds and secures the creation.

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THE SNAKE, the great deceiver, made his tree seem identical to the tree of life. Its fruit would open the eyes and give knowledge of good and evil, that is, secular knowledge — so very similar to the permitted tree that offered wisdom. This was Satan’s way of regaining power over Adam whom he refused to worship as the Image of God.

Martin Luther said that righteousness had been part of Adam’s original nature, part of what it meant to be the Image of God, but Adam lost righteousness when he sinned. In other words, by choosing the forbidden tree of secular know­ledge, Adam lost the ability to maintain the bonds of creation and hold all things together. This was restored in Christ: “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.17).

Martin Luther said that righteousness had been part of Adam’s original nature, part of what it meant to be the Image of God, but Adam lost righteousness when he sinned. In other words, by choosing the forbidden tree of secular know­ledge, Adam lost the ability to maintain the bonds of creation and hold all things together. This was restored in Christ: “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.17).

The human pair were condemned to the conse­quences of their choice, symbolised by expulsion from Eden — which means “delight” — into a state of pain and toil. They had been taken from dust, and having chosen the forbidden tree, they would return to dust. They lost their “resurrec­tion” life. Secular knowledge leads to material­ism and reductionism, to being no more than the physical stuff of existence.

They could not have both trees. The cherubim and flaming sword that barred the way to the tree of life were said to mean that Uriel barred their way, Uriel being the archangel who illum­inated the human mind with light from God.

The risen Lord promised his faithful followers they would again have access to the tree of life, with all that this implied in temple/creation theology (Revelation 2.7; 22.14). St John saw the tree of life by the throne of God in the holy of holies, and its leaves were for healing the nations (Revelation 22.2). Wisdom, Adam’s intended way of knowing and being, had been restored and would again hold all things together.

Atonement

EACH AUTUMN, ancient Israel celebrated what are now called the high holy days: New Year, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. This was when the tabernacle and temple were either built (Exodus 40.17; 1 Kings 8.2) or else cleansed and renewed (Ezra 3.1-7). The Roman Emperor Con­stantine consecrated his great new Christian “temple”, the Church of the Resurrection, in Jeru­sa­lem on 13 September 335 CE. Renewing the earth and restoring the temple were one and the same, and so September has always been the time for God’s creation. In the time of Jesus, the autumn new year was called the new year for planting trees.

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The bonds of the creation covenant were broken by human sins. Isaiah saw in a vision how the earth was collapsing because the eternal coven­ant had been broken. A curse was devouring the earth, and its inhabitants were suffering from their own sins (Isaiah 24.4-6). Jeremiah saw every­thing revert to its pre-creation state — waste and void — because people were only skilled in doing evil (Jeremiah 4.22-26). The vivid images in the apoca­lypses — stars falling from heaven, the sun turning black — were inspired by this tradition, and their rele­vance to our current crisis is obvious.

The high priest had to up­hold the covenant with right teaching, and when it was broken, restore it on the great Day of Atonement. Before he could cleanse and consecrate the tabernacle/temple at the new year and thus renew the creation, sin­ners had to repent of their actions and make such reparation as they could.

The Jubilee was proclaimed on the Day of Atone­ment (Leviticus 25.9) The prac­tical human response to the renewal of the creation was the great “remission”: pro­perty was restored, families were reunited, land was left to rest, bond slaves were released, and debts to fellow Israelites were cancelled (Leviticus 25 and Deuteron­omy 15). The land and hu­man society returned to the state of the sixth day of creation, when everything was very good, the state before Adam had sinned.

The offerings on the Day of Atonement are described in Leviticus 16. A bull was sacrificed, and then two goats were chosen; one was sacri­ficed and the other, the scapegoat, was driven out into the desert. Sacrificing animals is some­thing that many find distasteful today, but what the strange ritual symbolised and effected is fundamental to biblical creation theology.

Blood represented life, and, in the time of Jesus, both goats represented the Lord. He bore away the sins of Israel — in Hebrew “bear” and “for­give” are the same word; and His blood was sprinkled and smeared in the tabernacle/temple to cleanse and renew. Deuteronomy 32.43, trans­lated literally, says that the Lord came forth [on the Day of Atonement] to atone [that is, to heal] the soil of his people. The creation covenant was restored. In the time of Jesus, the remaining blood was poured out under the great outdoor altar to complete the atonement. Jesus renewed the creation covenant. Matthew, writing for Jew­ish Christians, made this clear. At the last supper, Jesus spoke of covenant blood poured out for the “remission [putting away] of sins” (Matthew 26.28).

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In other words, it was the Lord’s giving of his own life that took away the effects of sin and renewed the creation. So too, Christians have to be living sacrifices (Romans 12.1), and let their minds be transformed. New ways of thinking and sacri­ficial living, not the ways of the world and con­sumerism, should characterise Christians.

ST PAUL said the first role of the Spirit-filled sons of God was to release creation from “futil­ity” which means “going nowhere” (Romans 8.20). He was contrasting Christians with the fallen “sons of God”, the angels who, by their false teaching and rebellion against God, had corrupted the earth. This story is not in the Bible, although there is an allusion in Genesis 6.1-4, but it was well known in the time of Jesus, who warned that the devil and his angels would be punished (Matthew 25.41).

A company of angels, known as the sons of God, rebelled against God and brought their God-given knowledge to earth, but without the law of God. They corrupted the creation by teaching secular knowledge which fragmented and de­stroyed the creation. They brought “bloodshed and cries of despair”, instead of “justice and right­eousness”. The two pairs of words sound similar in Hebrew, and the contrast was well known (Isaiah 5.7).

The rebel angels brought a deceptive, false cov­en­ant, offering freedom and choice, but leading in fact to death and decay. Their promise sounded very like the original, but with the at­tractive addition of freedom and choice. The Christians, said St Paul, were the new sons of God, and their task was to set creation free from the bonds (the false covenant) imposed by the rebel angels.

Isaiah, centuries earlier, had described the rebel angels and the society they created. It was full of fortune tellers, money, weapons and wanton, be­jewelled women. It was a land where people wor­shipped the work of their own hands (Isaiah 2.8), and this was idolatry (Isaiah 1.2-4; 2.6-33.17).

The first and second commandments forbad idolatry. No gods before the Lord, and no idols (Exodus 20.3-6) which would produce “ini­quity”, a Hebrew word meaning distortion. Anything made by human effort — an economic system, a political system — was a false centre to the crea­tion covenant, and the resulting distortion would affect the third and fourth generations of those who hated the law of the Lord.

Today, we ask what sort of world we are leaving for future generations. Who will inherit the re­sult of today’s idolatries? We have only to con­sider the problem of waste to see how far we have moved from the creation covenant where all things are in harmony, and how far contem­porary values have led us from the state where everything is very good.

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The Kingdom

“THY Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the Christians’ vision. Each protest we make, each change we advocate, each action we take, must bring us nearer to the Kingdom. “Where there is no vision, the people unravel” (Proverbs 29.18, translating literally).

The Kis defined as heaven on earth, where God’s will is done, and so the temple/ creation parable means we should look to the holy of holies as our vision of heaven and our model for the earth. Mediaeval images of heaven depict angels singing. In the temple/creation context, this means the harmony of heaven and earth, working together to praise the Creator and sustain the creation.

St John described the holy of holies coming to earth when he said the heavenly city was a golden cube, that is, an enormous holy of holies (Revelation 21.15-18). He saw the throne of God and the Lamb in the centre of the city, the tree of life and the river of life. The servants of the Lord saw his face and worshipped him. This was Eden, with all the Adams restored to their in­tended place, eating from the tree of life, and en­joying the grace and peace that comes from seeing the face of the Lord (Numbers 6.22-6). It was the place of light, life and Unity with God.

THERE ARE SAYINGS attributed to Jesus that are not in the Gospels. Christians of Asia Minor remembered those St John had taught them: Jesus promised that in the Kingdom, the earth would be fruitful and produce huge harvests. The prophesied blessing for the earth would appear, and the original fertility would return. The reign of the Lord’s Anointed would be a time of social justice, real prosperity and a bountiful creation (Psalm 72).

The Book of Enoch, much read in the time of Jesus, prophesied that the earth would be restored to its true fertility only when it was farmed in righteousness, and when there was justice for the earth. The Great Holy One would send his angels to drive out the fallen angels and their false teaching. The earth would be set free from their plagues.

Isaiah had prophesied that justice for the field and forest would only come when there was good government. When the Spirit was poured out, kings would rule with righteousness and princes with justice — those covenant words — and there would be covenant peace in the whole creation. Good government was the key (Isaiah 32).

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When St John saw the Kingdom established on earth, he heard the liturgy of heaven and then the words of judgement which contrasted the servants of the Lord and the destroyers of the earth. Here is another pair of similar words: in Hebrew, “servant” and “destroyer” look and sound almost the same. The servants would be rewarded and the destroyers destroyed (Revela­tion 11.15-19). Establishing the Kingdom means the servants of the Lord working to eliminate everything - commercial interests, abuse of know­ledge, political expediency, economic sys­tems, human greed — that destroys the creation; and then praising the Creator to renew the earth.

Margaret Barker is a biblical scholar. Her latest book is Christmas: The Original Story, published by SPCK next month. She is a Methodist preacher and a former President of the Society for Old Testament Study. For 11 years she has been a member of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s Symposium Religion Science and the Environment (www.rsesymposia.org).

This short summary of creation theology is in no way comprehensive. References to biblical passages are given, but not to other texts. www.margaretbarker.com

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