Remembering God’s mighty acts
The Bible calls us to read its narrative in ways that contradict ‘deep time’
Published: 20 April 2017 (GMT+10)
Many specific features of the Bible show that it teaches ‘young age’ creation; e.g. Paul’s treatment of Genesis 2–3 in Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15, and Jesus’ use of Genesis 1 and 2 on the doctrine of marriage in Mark 10 and Matthew 19. Indeed, the young-age view is the best and easiest way to read Genesis 1–11. However, these all reflect a more ‘global’ consideration. The Bible as a whole treats its own narrative as history faithfully remembered and interpreted, and calls on its readers to do the same.
God’s mighty acts of old
We know God through His ‘mighty acts of old’. God commands His people to remember his mighty acts and warns of dire consequences for forgetting them (Deuteronomy 8). Israel often worshipped God by recalling His mighty acts, whether from the recent or distant past. Classic prayers, such as Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9, and Psalms (e.g. 105, 106, and 136), recall God’s mighty acts to praise God or indict the people and call them to repent. Communion is done “in remembrance of me”; i.e. Jesus’ death for us (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Solomon recalled God’s promises to David coming to fruition in the institution of the Temple (1 Kings 8:23–26). The Exodus is everywhere in the Bible remembered as a sign of God’s judgment and salvation. God is frequently called “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, recalling the promises He made to those men to make a nation from them and bless the world through them. And in Exodus 20:8–11 and 31:14–18 God commanded Israel to keep (31:14) and remember (20:8) the Sabbath as “a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (31:17). See The use of creation in the Old Testament and The use of Genesis in the New Testament
The purpose of Abraham
As we can see, this impetus for remembering God’s mighty acts didn’t start with remembering the Babylonian exile, or David’s reign, or the Exodus and the giving of the Law, or even with Abraham. It started with the creation of the heavens and the earth. Indeed, Genesis as a whole is a recollection of God’s mighty acts to explain how we get to the Exodus generation.
There were two main reasons for the Exodus: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). The first two chapters of Exodus cover the former reason; Genesis 12–50 covers the latter reason.
But why was the covenant with Abraham needed? The events of Genesis 1–11 form a controlling backdrop to the covenantal history of Abraham and his promised line. As such, these stories are not treated as theological propaganda, or as vague ‘once upon a time’ vignettes reflecting God’s character. Abraham is connected as family to the people involved in these events, and they are filled with references to ordinary human names, dates, and places. Genesis 1–11 presents the events as history, not fiction, though the events are dealt with very summarily, and some of the events discussed are indeed singular and strange. Nor is it history written purely for the sake of history—it tells the (historically) true story of why the covenant with Abraham was given. Genesis 1–11 is reliable theological history faithfully remembered to the praise of God. See Genesis as ancient historical narrative.
Jesus and God’s mighty acts
This emphasis on God’s mighty acts is also reflected in the ways Jesus did theology. On marriage in Mark 10:1–10 and Matthew 19:1–12, He appealed to the precedent of God’s mighty act of creating humanity in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 to ground His relativizing of Deuteronomy 24:1–4 in light of the inbreaking kingdom of God. In Mark 7:1–13, He appealed to God’s thunderous utterance of the Ten Commandments to nullify the human tradition of the Jewish elders. In Luke 20:37–40, He appealed to God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” to refute the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection. See Christ the Creationist.
Even the gospel only has the significance it does in light of the history of God’s mighty acts. We see this in the Peter’s preaching in Acts 2:14–41, Stephen’s apology in Acts 7:1–53, and Paul’s evangelistic preaching in Acts 13:16–41. Paul often fleshes this out in more detail in his letters. Galatians 3 and Romans 4 spell out the importance of God’s promises to Abraham for the Gospel. Romans 5:12–21, Romans 8:18–25, and 1 Corinthians 15 spell out the importance of Genesis 2–3 for the gospel. See The good news without the bad news is no news at all!
Interestingly, when the scope of consideration is widened beyond Israel, an appeal to God’s mighty act of creation is more likely to be prominent. For instance, Paul’s Athens sermon in Acts 17:22–31, Jonah’s identification of YHWH to foreigners in Jonah 1:9, God’s promise of a light to the nations in Isaiah 42:5–6, and God’s call to the nations to turn to Him and be saved in Isaiah 45:17–25. The history of God’s mighty acts, properly interpreted, legitimize the biblical worldview, and legitimize Jesus as the climax and centre of it. See Yahweh the Creator God of Israel.
Cosmic redemptive history against’ deep time’
The Bible presents a coherent and historically reliable story of cosmic creation, cosmic fall, and cosmic redemption. And it calls us to remember those events as God’s mighty acts of old. However, billions of years of ‘deep time’ is a different account of cosmic history. The Bible teaches us about particular events and timeframes that contradict ‘deep time’. As such, ‘deep time’ can’t simply be ‘tacked on’ as a prelude to Genesis, or fit somewhere in Genesis 1. Neither can we disregard, fictionalize, or generalize those parts of the Bible that contradict ‘deep time’. If we do, ‘deep time’ at the very least entails a fundamentally different way of reading the Bible’s narrative, and a different way of conceiving biblical inspiration and authority from what the Bible itself suggests. Better to stick with the Bible’s own way, which calls us to remember God’s mighty acts of old.