Genesis, Justice, and Biblical Authority

Genesis, and by extension the Pentateuch, views justice as right order. This is seen by two dominant features that not only occur in Genesis but in the Pentateuch as a whole.

First, besides creating everything, the second most important feature of the creation narrative in Genesis 1 is that of separation/division. Night is separated from day, waters above (note: this does not mean atmospheric moisture) from the waters below, and dry land from water. Then, God further divides each section: light is divided into sun, moon, stars and air, land, and water animals are distinguished from each other and from other animals in their own “section” by kind. “Kind” isn’t a genetic description but a God-imposed distinction. So, there you have it, God not only created everything but put everything in its place.

Secondly, a key theme through Genesis and the Pentateuch is the breaching of God’s divinely established order, judgment, punishment, and restoration. A perfect example is the story of Noah. It is introduced by the story of the “sons of God” mating with the “daughters of man.” It’s not clear what these categories refer to (does sons of God = angels or offspring of Kings?), but whatever it may be, there is a clear breach in the divinely established order. God judges them, enacts the punishment (i.e., flood), and then restores things to their proper order (Noah and his family). Another good example that I wont go into in detail is Korah’s rebellion. God established an order for the Levites, Korah rebelled against this order (“why can’t I speak with God like Moses?”), God judges, punishes, and reestablishes his order. Leviticus can be better understood in this way as explications of the divine order. Homosexuality, bestiality, and incestuous relationships violate God’s order established at creation. God also establishes a hierarchy in the tabernacle worship and separates the people from the elders (or priests) and the high priest (modeled upon the Sinai event [for more on this, cf. Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature] with Moses on top of the mountain, the elders on the second level, and the people on the bottom.)

Based upon these two points, I conclude that Genesis, and the Pentateuch as a whole, views justice as right order and not in terms of natural rights.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with Biblical Authority? Simply put, in the Pentateuch there is a divinely established taxonomy of creation that we blatantly do not follow. We do not distinguish animals based upon split hooves, chewing cud, or teemingness. Yet, the Bible does. If we’re going to be “biblical,” then shouldn’t we classify animals according to God’s divinely established order and not upon the frail and fallible human reason and philosophy (i.e., Aristotle)? It seems inconsistent to take the seven days seriously but no other cosmological assertions which are found throughout Scripture.

-EDIT-

I just realized how this illuminates the statement in Job about God saying to the sea, “this far and no further” (Job 38:11). Honestly, in light of my modern cosmology, I always thought this verse was a bit ridiculous (almost as ridiculous as the Israelites pining for cucumbers––who would pine for cucumbers?! [okay, I like cucumbers, but as a child, this sounded strange]). But it makes sense if one sees this statement and others like it in the light of right order.

An additional question to add to the original post would be, “How does this idea of right order help explain Proverbs?” Could the individual proverbs (taken, of course in their final form and order as we have them now) be understood as meditations on discerning and applying right order with wisdom as the tool for such activities? Foolishness would then be the ignorance of, rebellion against, and refusal to submit to God’s order. The good life, the one that rewards, is the one lived in accordance to God’s established order. That is why it brings wealth and prosperity. Not because wealth and prosperity are to be sought for their own sake, but because the result of living according to God’s order is human flourishing.

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The Not-So-Platonist Neoplatonists

I’ve been reading Remes book Neoplatonism and have found it to be, though difficult, a great introduction to Neoplatonism. Very highly recommended! Anyways, in chapter 3 she discusses the Neoplatonist view of nature and the sensible universe. If you’re familiar with conservative Evangelicalism or have spent anytime in those circles, you would know that there is a pop-antagonism against anything that smacks of Platonism. Often, as some of my earlier posts have noted (here, here, and here), the Early Church is singled out as an example of the detrimental effects of “Platonism.” Normally, this critique centers around the platonic understanding of creation and its relation to evil, which brings me back to Remes. As the standard account of “Platonism” goes as explained by some Evangelicals, matter and creation are “inherently evil.” But, is that an accurate portrayal of Platonism? Remes concludes her section on the subject of evil with this paragraph:

In all these approaches, evil undermines the goodness of the generation emanating from the One, but it has no ultimate power over it, nor is its existence independent of it. Even though evil marks especially the material and sensible existence, it should be remembered that Neoplatonism regards the sensible existence as a mainly positive one: a realm that displays the beauty of the higher principles. Plotinus attacks vehemently, for instance, Gnostic dualism: this world, although deficient, is not unqualifiedly or even predominantly evil but an image of a beautifully ordered intelligible realm. Bodies are beautiful houses and instruments of souls, not anything inherently evil (Enn. I.4.16.21-30, II.9.4-5). Even though matter is often described as a source of deformation and vice, it is unlimited and formless, and thereby without any beautiful organization or proportion, rather than being positively evil. It is not another source of existence alongside the One, but rather, generated by the One, even though furthest removed from its goodness.

-Pauliina Remes, Neoplatonism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 97.

The point: if you’re going to critique Platonism (and there are places where it needs to be critiqued), make sure you are actually critiquing Platonism. We (i.e., Christians) are people of action––strawmen do not become us.