Conflict in Genesis 1:1? (Carter)

In some ancient Near Eastern myths there are accounts of “creation.” These accounts typically have some sort of struggle. For example, the Enuma Elish tells the mythical story of Marduk battling Tiamat. After Marduk defeated Tiamat in battle, Tiamat’s body was “split like a fish to be dried into two halves, one of which became the sky” (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible; s.v. Tiamat). If we contrast this story to the story in Genesis 1, we realize that in Genesis 1 there is no struggle or conflict between God and someone or something else. Here’s how Craig Carter explained it:

“[It is plausible] to interpret Genesis 1:1 as affirming that God brought the formless matter itself into existence and is, therefore, totally sovereign over it. It cannot resist his will precisely because it is his creature. By “creature” I do not mean an eternally existing thing of less power than Yahweh; I mean something Yahweh brought into existence out of nothing. It may be formless and shapeless, but it is not rebellious or resistant to the will of the Creator. It is just waiting for the next step. Genesis differs from all ancient Near Eastern myths of origin because the false gods who deceived the nations with these myths were not capable of creatio ex nihilo, since they themselves were mere creatures of the transcendent Creator. So they chose to pretend that 1) there is no transcendent creator and 2) that the material cosmos itself is eternal. Thus they misled human beings into worshiping the creature (that is, them) rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The humans who followed these “cleverly devised myths” (1 Pet. 1:16) became “futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The absence of conflict in Genesis makes it distinct from ancient Near Eastern myths precisely because Genesis 1:1 teaches that all that exists came into existence by the agency of the word of God.

As we saw above, Exodus 3 stresses the uniqueness of the LORD, and Genesis 1 shows an implication of this uniqueness: unlike the gods of the nations, the LORD in his being is distinct from all created beings and is also the source of the existence of all created beings. The gods of the nations are real, and they do have some power, but compared to the LORD, they are as nothing. Strictly speaking, then, we should not refer to ancient Near Eastern myths as “creation stories.” They are stories about the reshaping of pre-existing matter rather than creation stories. Only Genesis is actually a creation story, because only in Genesis does God create everything (the heavens and earth) out of nothing. The doctor of creation, it seems, is unique to the Old Testament.

Craig Carter, Contemplating God with The Great Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2021), p.141.

Shane Lems
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