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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesus Christ, Creation & Chaos: Genesis 1:1-2 Septuagint (LXX)

In regard to the question of preexisting matter (Chaos), it is somewhat difficult to nail down a solid reading of John 1:3, Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:3, 1Cor 8:6 without understanding the cultural framework of the authors, in particular what presuppositions did the authors bring with them about scope of God’s creative activity. Did they share with their idolatrous neighbors the notion of a preexisting Chaos, either a formless mass of  unorganized matter,  often personified as a mythological anti-creation Chaos monster, or did they understand verse two of Genesis as a description of  a stage in the process of God’s creative activity, where tohu vav bohu was a result of an initial creative act of God? There are thousands of pages of secondary literature devoted to this question. I don’t intend to review all the arguments.

To help understand the cultural and religious framework of the New Testament authors we might ask: “What was the prevailing understanding of the Genesis 1:2 at time when the Septuagint(LXX) was used as scripture?” In other words, the Septuagint may serve as is a primary source, a witness to the exegetical tradition of Judaism current in the Hellenistic period.

Gen. 1:1 ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν  2 ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος  3 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός γενηθήτω φῶς καὶ ἐγένετο φῶς

Looking at the discourse structure in Gen 1:1-3 LXX, John Wevers[1] suggests that δὲ in v.2 marks a switch in the subject from ὁ θεὸς to ἡ γῆ. Stephen Levinsohn[2] states “information introduced by δὲ … represents a new step or development in the story … this information builds on what has proceeded it.” Assuming[3] that Levinsohn’s comments can be applied to ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν … in  Gen 1:2, this suggests that verse two follows verse one in a linear sequence but there other possibilities. The particle δὲ can also be used in a switch either to or from background material[4].  G. Wenhem[6] cites the Gen. LXX as an early witness to the traditional reading of Gen 1:1-3 wherein the relationship between the statements is sequential; “V[erse]1 is a main clause describing the first act of creation, V[erses] 2 and 3 describe subsequent phases in God’s creative activity.”

[1]John Wevers,  Notes on Greek Text of Genesis, p. 1.
[2] Stephen Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek, 2nd Ed. SIL, 2000, p76

[3] Levinsohn’s treatment of discourse particles including καὶ and δὲ is long, nuanced and complex. It would not serve our purpose to get embroiled in the details of his discussion so I abbreviated one statement at risk of distorting his views. The question of the discourse function of δὲ needs to be investigated for each author and text. Levinsohn has demonstrated that Acts and Luke do not use δὲ in exactly the same manner and the John’s Gospel has yet a different pattern. Never the less, then notion of “development” seems to be somewhat general, transcending the boundaries of genre and author. However, one should proceed with due caution when applying principles from discourse grammar.

[4] S. Levinsohn, Discourse Features p72.

[5] for the four major readings see either Victor P. Hamilton Genesis NICOT v1 or Gordon J. Wenham  Genesis WBC v1.

[6] Gordon J. Wenham  Genesis WBC v1, p.13, see also p.11


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