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God Words and God’s Actions: Primary Hermeneutics
Something to notice in the creation account is the correspondence between God’s thoughts (and speech), and His actions. The one corresponds precisely with the other.* Put in the most pedestrian terms, God means what He says! This fact is exemplified in what happens on Day Three:
(God’s Words) Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree which yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so.
(God’s Actions) And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen.1:11-12)
This equivalence is perhaps rather too obvious, and as such it is often missed. But it is quite prominent in the chapter, and indeed, in the recounting of God’s speech elsewhere; See e.g., Gen. 11:7-9; 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 4:42-44; 5:10-14; Jn. 21:21-23.
Note the following:
(God’s Words) “Let there be light”
(God’s Actions) “and there was light” (1:3)
(God’s Words) “then God said ‘Let there be a firmament…and let it divide the waters’ ”
(God’s Actions) “Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters…” (1:6-7).
(God’s Words) “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’ ”
(God’s Actions) “and God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind.” (1:24-25)
We see this lesson taught also in the “God said … and it was so” motif in 1:6-7; 9, 11, 14-15; 24; 29-30. The crescendo is reached in verses 26-28 and the creation and commission of our first parents:
(God’s Words) Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, according to our own likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
(God’s Actions) So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
As well as learning that there is a direct correlation between what God says and what God does (what I will call the “words/actions motif,” or WAM), please notice several other important points in the text. First, the WAM motif is extended in communication with the creature, most notably in the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28. So God’s words spoken to Adam would correspond to what God did. This is what made the mandate and also the prohibition not to eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil meaningful.
Sometimes one encounters people who say that a Christian cannot start with the Word of God because the Bible requires interpretation, so that our principles of interpretation have to be derived from other sources. There is a fallacy in this reasoning. This only pushes the problem further back. Now we have to ask how the principles themselves could be interpreted. The only way round the difficulty is to believe the biblical record of God’s speaking to Adam, which presupposes the gift of language and interpretation of language. The first language was literal in its intent. It was literally understood and literally performed. We are able to interpret this basic plain-sense meaning before we learn other meanings. Language and hermeneutics go together. The latter ought never to confound the former. The Bible’s Creation account, literally understood, explains the origin of language and of good hermeneutics.
* Related to this is Merrill’s assertion that two forms of revelation (natural and verbal) are seen in Genesis 1. While it is perhaps straining somewhat to call God’s speech in creation week “revelation” (since there was no one to whom it came), his point deserves attention. See Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion, 75f.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.