The first few books of Genesis, being, as we have already examined on this blog, a bit of a hodgepodge of different accounts, present a very striking picture of God. The different facets of God, however, are actually somewhat subtle, so they are easy to miss if you’re just hearing the verses aloud or getting a canned repackaging of the verses in Sunday school or off the pulpit. But to provide a better context, and allow you to see exactly striking differences, let’s take a look at some features of how God is presented in the first few books of Genesis:
- In Gen. 1:1-24, God makes several pronouncements as if he is the only being in existence, snapping his fingers and creating the world with ease.
- In Gen. 1:25, God makes another pronouncement, but oddly uses the first person plural: “Let us make mankind in our image…”
- In Gen. 1:28, God suddenly goes back to regular first person again: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth..”
- In Gen. 2:19, God can’t just snap his fingers to create anymore, but has to mold Eve from adam.
- In Gen. 3:8-9, God is portrayed as if he’s just another dude living in the Garden, and not an omnipotent deity: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” This continues in verse 11, when God asks adam whether adam had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, and in Gen. 4, when God questions Cain about Abel.
- But in the rest of Gen. 3, God seems to have all of his divine powers back, being able to punish adam and Eve for their transgressions.
- Suddenly then in Gen. 3:23, God uses the first person plural: “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’”
- In Gen. 11, God, upon looking at Babel, apparently still uses “us”: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Gen. 11:7).
- For most of Abram’s story (Gen. 12-15), God simply just talks to him–with no venturing down to earth to check out Abram’s doings. God can just speak directly to him, as if they both had iPhones.
- But later on in Abram’s story, when God wants to tell Abram the really important stuff, he apparently doesn’t rely on ATT/his cloudy-white iPhone. Instead he sends an angel (Gen. 16:11).
- Just when you think God’s got it figured out, now he himself appears IN PERSON to Abram (iPhone signal problems?) in Gen. 17:1. He also apparently, in his straight talk with Abram, tells him all of the really important stuff — mostly how Abram himself is going to end up a bunch of kids and be super powerful.
I could go on — and I promise you a future post will. But at this point: so if you’re at all like me, you have questions. First of all (1), is God omnipotent? Why does he seem to be all-powerful, yet also be described as not knowing the answers to many questions and/or “walking” in the Garden? The second question (2): Is there another God? To whom is God referring to when he says “us”? And (3) why does God sometimes just pronounce things, and sometimes send angels?
These are important questions. Christians, or at least Bible literalists, would (probably) argue in response to (1) that God is omnipotent, and that his questioning of adam and Cain was for their own good, not because God didn’t know the answers (apparently God was being Socratic). This response isn’t quite good enough, though: What about the walking bit? What does this refer to? In response to the second (2) question, they would probably contend that God was using the royal “we,” and that he certainly wasn’t referring to another God or anyone else. All of his pronouncements, they might suggest, were just pronouncements, and nothing else. Of course, this still doesn’t resolve the reason as to why God sometimes refers to himself as “we” and sometimes as “I.” And as for the third (3) question, they might argue that God could appear/speak in whatever way he/she wants.
The most rational explanation for these differences lies in the different authors and sources for Genesis. A detailed explanation of this will be saved for a later post, where I’ll examine the different sources for Genesis. But for now, it’s important to see these distinct differences in the text, and to seriously consider whether one should have to make a roundabout argument to justify them. Rather, the most obvious explanation is that a different author with different perspective on God was each trying to understand him in his* own way.
*I say “his” of course because at this point in time all of the writers of Genesis were unquestionably male.