Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part II

In the words of C.J. Mahaney, "I've never had an original thought, don't intend on ever having an original thought, don't expect God to ever entrust me with an original thought because of the pervasiveness of my pride." Dr. Peter J. Gentry is my O.T. professor and I owe this entire series to him. If anything I say sounds odd, or unlikely, then that part is probably me and not Gentry. We've probably all read Genesis 1:27-28 before and either heard or asked the question, "What does it mean to be made in the image of God?" Well, the answer can be found in the literary structure of these two verses which is known as a Hebrew chiasm, or Chiastic parallelism.

(27) "So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(28) And God blessed them. And God said to them,
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it
and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens and over every living
thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 1:27-28

This Hebrew chiasm is structured in ABBA form where the first statement corresponds with the last and the middle two statements with each other. It's called a chiasm because symbolically it looks like an "X" which is the greek letter "chi". If you cut the X in half horizontally you have a top and bottom part that are mirror images of each other, therefore the top has an A-B statement that mirrors the bottom B'-A' statement. (I promise, this is important.)

In Gen. 1:27 the "A" is the first statement, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;" Where we err is when we try to match this with the next statement, "male and female he created them." This is what Karl Barth did and concluded that our sexuality must be what it means to be made in the image of God. But this is not how the Hebrews wrote this text. Because of the chiastic form the original intent of the author was to have his readers relate this to the last statement in verse 28, "... subdue it [the earth] and have dominion over... every living thing that moves on the earth." In a way, when we are told that God created man in his own image we are being prepared for the later statement that we are to have dominion over the rest of creation. Similarly, the second statement of v. 27, "male and female he created them" is meant to prepare us for the following proclamation, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." So, the top and bottom "A" statements go together and the middle two "B" statements go together. I hope I have made this clear. Now for the context that blew me away. In the Ancient Near East kings and pharaohs were called, "the image of god". Now, when these kings would go out and conquer land they would put a statue, or image, of themselves in their new territory. What this told all of the inhabitants that saw this image of the king was that he was the ruler of this land. You see, God has made man in his image and placed us all over the earth and by so doing he is proclaiming to all of creation that he is the ruler of this earth. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. The Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) Hebrews would have understood this. It's harder for us to grasp this since we are living several millenia after the fact, but when we dig deep enough to understand the context that the Scriptures were written in we are able to see and understand things a little more clearly. I hope you are enjoying this series so far. More to come...


Anonymous said...


chance n said...

i tried to explain it the best i could... it's hard not being able to explain it in person. also, i'm sure that it is easier to understand when you have a professor teach you than a guy like me. does anonymous have a name?

Anonymous said...

I admire your humility.