Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Let us make man (Gen 1:26-27)

"Us"? Who the heck is God talking to? I always thought this was a weird one when I was a kid, but I never thought it meant that there were multiple gods. I guess I could see how someone could think that, though. My assumption as a child had been that God was talking to the angels, since most appearances of angels (if not all) in the Bible have angels looking pretty much just like humans. This could be correct, but it's not the standard Christian explanation, nor is the explanation that this is a "majestic plural". Of course, one of the interesting things about this whole passage in the original Hebrew is that the word translated "God" is actually plural in form, although treated grammatically as a singular noun throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

The standard Christian explanation, which I am highly inclined towards, is that this verse is one among many that shows the members of the Trinity discussing something amongst themselves. Christian doctrine doesn't teach that God decided to divide Himself into parts in order to become human in the person of Jesus, but rather that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed from before time. Thus it's not entirely bizarre for God to call Himself "us", since He has a certain plurality of identity wrapped up within His unity. I suppose I should eventually try and explain the Trinity, but it's one of the harder things to explain, and I don't think this is the time for it.

Moving on, the SAB claims that it's impossible that God gave humans dominion over the other creatures of the earth, since animals came before humans. Nonsense. A young couple that has some money to spare could easily set aside a savings account to pay for the college tuition of a child that they do not yet have. Local governments build roads that are intended to reach residential areas that presently have not yet any houses built in them. My office breakroom has stores of sugar and cream for coffee that won't be brewed for months to come. But there is another very good point brought up by Wells with this point. Many Christians do use this verse to justify cruelty to animals and ravaging of the environment, and I agree that it's wrong. Jesus taught that God is like a landowner that gave some farmland to some people to look after it, and when he returns, he expects it to be in good shape, or he'll punish the people he left in charge. While I think the main purpose of this allegory is in regards to spiritual matters, it seems reasonable to guess that the physical aspects of this world are important as well.

Speaking of physical aspects, what about the physical aspects of humanity, and being "in the image of God"? The SAB asks, "Is God both male and female?" Yes and no. God is exclusively referred to as being male throughout the Scriptures, so He is male; but it's not entirely clear in what sense. I think even the most conservative of Christians would agree that God has female attributes: He's the creator of life, He's nurturing, He's sensitive and caring about the emotions of others, etc. But He doesn't have a physical body (at least, He didn't at this time, the Incarnation aside), so calling Him male or female is in a certain sense misleading. So what does "the image of God" mean?

If God has no physical form, He doesn't look like anything in particular, so being "in the image of God" can't logically mean that we look like Him. In this case, "image" is figurative language, one of a handful of words that meant something different in Biblical times than it does today, like "name". In Biblical times, a person's "name" often meant their character. Note that in the many instances that God gives someone a new name, it usually has symbolic meaning. But that's a tangent for another time; I know it'll come up later. "Image" means really something more akin to God putting His royal seal on something. He's setting up humanity as having a special place in the cosmos, and He's saying, "Yeah, I created everything in the world, but this is special. Cause harm to one of My children and you'll pay for it." Really there's a great deal of discussion among Christian theologians about what this means in full, such as whether it's what makes us uniquely spiritual beings among God's creation; animals don't practice religion even though they, too, were created by God.

Not mentioned here for some reason, but saved until the next chapter is the matter of whether male and female were created simultaneously. Although I addressed this previously, I wanted to say more about the grammar involved. If I were to say, "I did A and B," in absence of further information, you'd be quite reasonable to assume that A and B either happened simultaneously, or in close succession. But if you have evidence that's not the case, then you'd be unreasonable to continue to assume that. In the case of the Bible, the further evidence comes from chapter two that "male and female" weren't created at once. If I said, "In the '90s, I earned my high school diploma and my bachelor's degree," your understanding of how long it takes to earn a bachelor's degree should cause you to realize that the span of time covered by "and" is most likely somewhere from three to six years. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with the sentence, nor that it's a contradiction to a full telling of my life stories from the '90s which revealed that indeed, many years passed between these events.

5 comments:

bookdragon said...

you might want to recheck that statement that God is male because God exclusively refered to as male in the bible. It doesn't quite hold up. Aside from numerous analogies of God to mothers and other women, at least two aspects of the Godhead are feminine.

Wisdom is feminine in Proverbs and unless you picture her as some sort of lesser goddess/consort to God, she is an aspect of God. (Note some rabbis got around this by saying the figure of Mother and Wisdom in Proverbs was really the Torah. But since John took that and said Jesus was the Logos, it all comes back around for us.)

Also Shekinah - the Holy Spirit or the manifestation of God among us - is feminine.

There is an idolatry in claiming God to be exclusively male as well as a serious problem with placing that sort of limitation on God's nature.

Brucker said...

I agree that one can't place a limitation on God's nature; certainly God could be female if He wanted to do so, and there's no saying that He never has been.

I understand that some have suggested the possibility of the Holy Spirit being a female aspect in particular, but I'm not familiar with the Greek enough to say whether or not this holds much merit. Once again, I'll admit it's possible.

As for the personification of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, however, I think I'm going to disagree. While that interpretation is, I suppose, within the realm of possibility, I would say that such passages are meant figuratively. "Wisdom" is not an actual woman, but a character in an allegory that Solomon is writing. After all, Folly is also personified, are we to assume that this is Satan taking on a feminine form? (Anyway, I don't think Satan is foolish, although surely he likes foolishness.) I wouldn't outright say you're wrong about those passages, but my strong opinion is that this is not the intended interpretation.

Semper Paratus said...

Just thought the following article might be of interest to you:

Let Us Make Man

Sam said...

Your explanation is incredible silly. It's one thing to put something aside for future use, it's another to "have dominion over" something you will never see, ie 99% of life on Earth that has gone extinct, from trilobites to dinosaurs. It's simply impossible. Also the whole Trinity thing makes no sense, especially once you look into the origins of the bible and such (Yahweh was originally a Caanaite war god among other gods, such as Baal, Asherah, etc) and that was why Abraham choose Yahweh as his elohim or main god. They even interacted with Yahweh in the same ways as their contemporary pagan brethren. Throughout, Yahweh is compared to other gods, eg "who is like Yahweh among all other gods?" Also, the original word in the bible for "us" is pluralistic for gods. ie more than one god, not as a group of people or different pats of a whole.

Brucker said...

I would assume that it's only talking about living animals, which seems a reasonable assumption. Of course mankind is not going to have dominion over dead animals. (If you want to be technical, you could talk about living animals that mankind can't have dominion over, such as parasites; think about it!)

As for trinitarianism, I'm not following you. Even if you assume the bit about Yahweh's possible pagan roots, what does that have to do with it? The reason Yahweh is compared to other gods is largely a cultural thing, but I discuss it at length in another post. But I don't see how you can feel so definitive about the meaning of "us" any more than I can. Or are you a Hebrew scholar?