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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Jesus Christ, Creation & Chaos — 2 Peter 3:5-7

Continuing to look at primary sources which will give us a window into the early exegetical tradition with regard to the creation account in Genesis 1 we will now take a look at a difficult text 2Peter 3:5-7:  

2Pet. 3:3 τοῦτο πρῶτον γινώσκοντες ὅτι ἐλεύσονται ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν [ἐν] ἐμπαιγμονῇ ἐμπαῖκται κατὰ τὰς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας αὐτῶν πορευόμενοι  4 καὶ λέγοντες· ποῦ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ; ἀφ᾿ ἧς γὰρ οἱ πατέρες ἐκοιμήθησαν, πάντα οὕτως διαμένει ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως.  5 Λανθάνει γὰρ αὐτοὺς τοῦτο θέλοντας ὅτι οὐρανοὶ ἦσαν ἔκπαλαι καὶ γῆ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ δι᾿ ὕδατος συνεστῶσα τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ,  6 δι᾿ ὧν ὁ τότε κόσμος ὕδατι κατακλυσθεὶς ἀπώλετο·  7 οἱ δὲ νῦν οὐρανοὶ καὶ ἡ γῆ τῷ αὐτῷ λόγῳ τεθησαυρισμένοι εἰσὶν πυρί τηρούμενοι εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως καὶ ἀπωλείας τῶν ἀσεβῶν ἀνθρώπων.

2Pet. 3:3 First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions 4 and saying,  “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”  5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water,  6 through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. RSV

There are at least two big questions we must ask about this text. Does it support creation ex materia? Does τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ have significance for christology?

In 2Pet 3:5 the agent of creation is not mentioned until the very end of the verse … συνεστῶσα τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ which indicates that  being purposely forgetful: Λανθάνει γὰρ αὐτοὺς τοῦτο θέλοντας “They deliberately ignore”, is in focus not the notion of agency. Furthermore agency is embedded in a participle clause which might suggest that it is background information. Never the less, we have an expression τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ that reminds us of John 1:3 where ὁ λόγος is the agent of creation. However, there is some question about the the referent of τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ 2Pet 3:5. James D. G. Dunn [1] thinks that our author was not aware of John’s Prologue (Jn 1:1-18). Dunn and others suggest that the referent of τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ was the same as Psalm 33:6  and Hebrews 11:3.   

Psa. 32:6 τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν

Heb. 11:3 Πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι.

 2Pet 3:5-7, with a repetition of the word ὕδωρ water, draws on imagery from Genesis 1 LXX where ὕδωρ water appears twelve times.  The first occurrence of ὕδωρ water is the last word of Gen 1:2.

Gen. 1:2 ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος

Here we are faced with the exegetical decision we discussed in the last post. I would suggest that τοῦ ὕδατος water in Gen 1:2 represents the first phase of creation, not an eternal uncreated matter or an anti-creation chaos monster.  2Pet weaves together the water of creation with the water of the flood which suggests that the flood was a return to the pre-creation state. This language is both ancient and symbolic (i.e. pre-modern) we are not talking only about a physical substance H2O. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) the Sea, went under various names but regularly had a supernatural referent as well as a physical referent, the two were not kept separated. This feature of the ANE worldview is difficult for moderns to appreciate. While the author of 2Pet certainly understood that the Deluge in Genesis was a physical event, it also had cosmological and supernatural aspects. 

In 2009, Chris Tilling was exploring question of  ἐξ ὕδατος … δι᾿ ὕδατος …  ὕδατι on his blog  where he posted a private communication from Richard Bauckham:

"Another possibility is that 'chaos' was a sort of mythological way of imagining 'nothing.' To imagine a pre-creation chaos and to say that God created all things was perfectly consistent, because no 'thing' existed until God formed it out of chaos"
         — Richard Bauckham (e-mail to Chris Tilling).
The notion that the Genesis account of creation had completely de-mythologized the ANE combat cosmologies (e.g. Baal and Yam, Marduk and Tiamat) by making the sea monsters just another creature created by YHWH is somewhat oversimplified. The combat cosmologies continued to exert their influence on the literature of the Old Testament  (Job, Psalms, etc.) and we still find traces of them in the New Testament, for example Jesus calming of the Sea. The mythical imagery in the form of metaphor lived on long after the the myths had been left behind.    

[1] James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, 2nd Ed. Eerdmans 1989, page 234, see also 217.


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