Weiss, Herold, Creation in Scripture (Gonzalez: Energion Publications, 2012). (Amazon.com)
Energion Publications sent me a review copy of Herold Weiss’ Creation in Scripture. Since I have discussed the topic of creation and evolution on this blog (especially as relates to the historicity of Adam) Henry Neufield offered to send me a copy to discuss with my readers. The book is a fairly easy read at about one hundred and three pages of content. Each chapter feels like a written lecture. It isn’t a pure academic book in that Weiss does not interact with other scholars. In fact, there are two footnotes and both are explanatory. This book would not be a good textbook in my opinion because it doesn’t allow the reader to follow the author line of thinking. Since there are no sources to check all on is given is Weiss’ thoughts on various matters without the option of reading materials that may have influenced his thinking.
I think the book has two primary functions: (1) it does a solid job of organizing the “doctrine of creation” across Scripture for those wanting a single resource to help them explore the “biblical” teaching on the matter and (2) it may be useful for something like a small group study at your local church.
Weiss has bookends of an introduction and a summary. The nine chapters in the middle are simply titled, “Creation in Prophetic Literature,” “Creation in Wisdom Literature and The Psalms,” “…in Genesis 2:4b-4:26,” “…in Genesis 1:1-2.4a,” “…in the Letter To the Romans,” “…in the Corinthian Correspondence,” “…in the Letter To the Colossians,” “…in the Exhortation To the Hebrews,” and “…in Revelation“.
In the Introduction Weiss explains the evolution is not a completely new idea since it has roots in antiquity (p. 1). He outlines the modernist-fundamentalist controversy and the role Darwin has played in how Christians reactively interpret Scripture (pp. 2-3). He is concerned with the consequences of the fundamentalist approach noting how it has isolated many from younger generations. Some of his statements are somewhat polemic in nature such as:
“To affirm that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth does not require that creationism control what is taught in science classes (p. 4).”
“Creationism is neither theology, i.e., a affirmation of creation as a theological statement, not is it science. It is an ideology and, like all ideologies, only serves to distract the uninformed and hide the agenda of those who espouse it (p. 5).”
Weiss argues that creationism as an ideology cannot be tested while theories of science can be tested. Therefore, creationism does not offer the same type of explanatory power as the doctrine of evolution because the data can be tested to see it if fits the paradigm of evolution while it cannot be done the same way to see if it fits the paradigm of creationism (or Intelligent Design) (pp. 5-9).
Weiss explains the aim of his book is to “…explore what different parts of the Bible say about creation (p. 10).” He wants to move away from the modernist-fundamentalist controversy by showing that creationist types make the mistakes of thinking that Scripture has one unified doctrine of creation when in fact it is multifaceted. As he says in his summary chapter:
“Those who wish to present the doctrine of creation found in the Bible cannot reduce it to Gen. 1:1-2:4a. They must take into account the whole Bible. To take the Bible seriously does not mean to exercise authority over it and ignore the testimony of most of it so as to present one’s preferences as ‘biblical’. To be honest about creation in the Bible we must recognize that in it the descriptions of creation, the conditions under which it took place, the structural arrangements of the universe, the presence of evil within it and the characterizations of the Creator are amazingly varied and even contradictory (p. 98).”
In Creation in the Prophetic Literature Weiss emphasizes that God’s covenant with Israel is tied to a philosophy of history wherein Israel’s God is the Creator God and as Creator God he continues to work through his creation. He argues that the prophets see “two very important things,” namely, (1) creation identifies their covenant God and (2) creation is not something of the past, but it is a current historical reality in which they live (p. 16). As Weiss summarizes later: “…history is the theater of God’s justice, and God is the one guiding history toward the Day of the Lord to fulfill justice. For the prophets creation is the beginning of the historical process in which God accomplishes his purpose (p. 93).” Creation has the function of being the stage whereupon God moves his drama forward.
In Creation in the Wisdom Literature and The Psalms the diverse views of God and his role as Creator are explored. God is the one who reigns sovereign. Weiss points out that mythological language plays an important roles in places like the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms: e.g., “Rahab, Leviathan, the dragon of the sea and the waters of the abyss… (p. 25).” For those who want to emphasize a “biblical view of Creation” this mythological imagery must be considered.
While Weiss is not explicit in this it does seem that he has outlined his book somewhat chronologically. Obviously, it is not canonically. After talking about prophetic and wisdom literature he arrives at the two creation narratives at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. In Creation in Genesis 2:4b-4:26 Weiss points out how “this story reflects patriarchal, androcentric society (p. 31). It depicts God as creating man. It identifies God by his covenant name (YHVH). It is “…limited to what we know as the Fertile Crescent of the Near East (p. 32). “God faces unanticipated problems and has to experiment with various options before coming up with the appropriate response. Apparently God is not omniscient (p. 32).” He points out how God seems unsure about Adam’s partner parading the animals before him. He does not anticipate their failure. He is anthropomorphic in that he walks around Eden as a man. He doesn’t know where Adam and Eve reside after their disobedience. One could stretch this motif further into Genesis 6ff. when God floods the world because he seems distraught that he created humanity in the first place. Main point: this God doesn’t sound exactly like the God on Genesis 1.1-2.4a.
In Creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a creation is presented using an “architectonic structure” where God speaks this or that into existence then fills it. Honestly, I waited for footnotes citing John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One because this chapter makes the same argument, basically. If you’ve read the book or my review of that book on this blog you know the point of this chapter.
Weiss skips the Gospels altogether then moves into Pauline writings. In Creation in the Letter To the Romans 1.18-32 and 8.1-18 receive the most attention. There is discussion on how Creation reveals God and how Paul anticipates Creation’s restoration. In Creation in the Corinthian Correspondence Weiss addresses Paul’s cosmology including spirits and powers as well as how Paul organizes different ways of “being” in creation in chapter fifteen of 1 Corinthians. He juxtaposes Paul’s views in these two letters writing:
“In To the Romans Paul argues that creation by itself is enough to provide every human being knowledge of ‘the eternal power and deity’ of God (Rom. 1:20). In 2 Corinthians he says that those having faith receive from the face of the risen Christ, who is the object of their faith, the knowledge that they do not belong to the natural world, but to the spiritual world (p. 61).”
In other words, Creation does point to God but it cannot have the same function as faith in Christ which points the believer past the visible world. There is further discussion regarding the aim and role of this Creation and how Creation is to be understood when Paul discusses “New Creation.”
In Creation in the Letter To the Colossians (a book Weiss argues is pseudonymous) Weiss compares the cosmology of this epistle to Hellenistic thought on things like the elements of the world and the body of the cosmos arguing that Jesus is seen as the head of a world embodied by God. He says that the author, “…takes basic Hebraic understandings and transplants them into Hellenistic soul in order to offer a cosmos occupied by ‘the Plentitude’ of the risen Christ who created and reconciled it (p. 67).” This was the first chapter where footnotes seems absolutely essential since Weiss makes a lot of claims regarding Christ and the pleroma, but doesn’t support them with much argument. The same is true of his chapter Creation in the Exhortation To the Hebrews where he says presents the author as being highly influence by Stoic cosmology, but it is an argument mad ex cathedra. There are no sources to check. No footnotes provides to direct the reader to people who take this position or argue against it.
In Creation in Revelation Weiss explores the a cosmology presented through the apocalyptic genre with its mythological symbols. This is an interesting chapter with allusions to the Book of Genesis, the Ennuma Elish, and an attempt to explain the cosmic warfare of this book along with an ending in which Creation becomes a New Creation.
Overall it was a thought provoking little book. As I said above it may be useful for helping someone who wants to think about how Creation is depicted “biblically” (i.e., in different areas of the Protestant canon) or for someone like a small group leader who needs a conversation starter.