The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday, January 7, 2018 offer an intriguing correlation for a Pentecostal hearing of these texts in harmony. Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.
The Genesis text describes the hovering of the divine Spirit over the waters at creation leading into the calling of “light” as “day” for that first day of creation.
The Psalm (being a Canaanite hymn cast into Yahwistic adulation) imagines Yahweh enshrined above the waters as king of all: in power and majesty.
Acts finds Paul leading the Ephesian water-baptized converts into Spirit inundation that Jesus might be demonstrated as Lord.
And the Gospel reading is Jesus’ water baptism leading to the Spirit alighting upon him with the Father’s blessings.
In each of these texts it is the Lord (as Spirit) who oversees the watery baptisms and leads from the abyss of cleansing into the life of the blessed Son who reigns supreme as the glorious light of Heaven. These texts intersect one another pointing to something which a Pentecostal hearing might enjoin as demonstrating the Full Gospel message of Jesus saving, sanctifying, baptizing in the Spirit, [and healing?] as king.
I just realized I have never posted anything (other than my thesis) dealing with the range of meaning for the Hebrew יוֹם (yom) which is often translated as something like “day”. With all of the kerfuffles (that is a specific theological term 😉 ) over the word “day” in Genesis 1, I thought I’d do a brief post on my own work on this on what has been taught to my students (and will be tomorrow morning as well).
So here is the semantic range (the range of meanings based upon usage of the Hebrew term) as I have worked it out from my reading of the text of Genesis 1 (which is a distinct literary unit from verse 1 to either chapter 2, verse 3 or possibly verse 4):
Period of light (v.5)
Period of alternating darkness/light (vv.5, 8, 13)
Cultic festivals (v.14)
A twenty-four hour period (v.14, 18, 19, 23, 31)
The “day” of God’s resting (2.2-3)
The week of creation (2.4)
This first usage is what God “calls” the period of “light” which he had just created.
The second is (to be precise) an alteration between darkness and light. While this could be (and arguably is) the same as #4 there are many who see the lack of the sun, moon and stars (interestingly enough remaining unnamed by this text) on days 1-3 as indicative that these “days” are in fact not to be precisely equated with those following the creation of sun, moon and stars. This is argued on the basis of our own calculations of time as we experience it presently. I simply offer this variant because it is a possible (though I think unlikely) usage different from #4.
The third is best translated by the context provided in the New Jerusalem Bible of Gen.1.14: ‘God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years’. Many of the translations miss the sense of the festivals as unique “days” in the unfolding revelation of God’s plan for creation. The (second) usage in this passage is not so much simply referring to the passage of days and years, but of the sacred days and years (ie, the Day of Atonement, Sabbath Years, etc.). It is a sacred (the scholarly term being “cultic”) day.
The fourth is typically where folks get rankled with one another and debate as if heaven and hell were in the balance. This is a usage of “day” that refers to twenty four hour periods of time passing (clarified by “evening and morning”) after the sun, moon and stars are in their courses. Now whether one should understand this literalistically (with fullest historical intent) or as a theological construct (without historical intent beyond God’s creating) is another issue. Both can regard it as a “twenty-four hour period”. One never moves beyond that sense. The other understands it as something like metaphor or construct.
The fifth might also simply fall into the category of the fourth, but is differentiated in the text by no ascription of “evening and morning” and technically no movement beyond the “day” of God’s resting (sabbathing). Some (even from the second Temple period in Judaism) regarded this as a reference to the ongoing “day” of God’s “rest”.
The sixth usage of yom is obscured in many translations by the use of “When” or “In the time of”. It is literalistically translated “In the day of…”. And this usage is pointing to the week of creation just laid out. It is not saying it took only one “day”, but points simply to the time of creation.
So what do you make of this semantic range? Is it possible we are missing the forest for the trees?
In Sunday School this week we covered Genesis 1. Something that struck me was verses 29-30:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:29-30 NIV)
Whereas some have taken this as some sort of Pre-fall diet plan to get healthy (it isn’t), I realized it is making a VERY significant claim theologically. In the ancient Near Eastern stories of the creation of humans (see Atrahasis Epic), people were made to feed the gods. They did feed themselves, but only as they would “sustain the gods”. And the gods (Igigi) were said to toil hard at making food and led (by their rebellion under the toil) to the creation of humans.
In the Genesis 1, however, it is the God of Israel who feeds people and creatures alike. There is not even a mention of God eating (to be fair God is described as eating later in the canon). Now THAT is a theological claim we should not miss. This God, the god of Israel, is the one who feeds all of creation and has created in order to care for creation. And the work was not toilsome to begin with, but simply attending to the garden of God (Gen.2-3). And it was God Himself who watered the dwelling of humans and gave them freely to eat. This is the God of Israel. This is the God of the Church.
Now that’ll preach!