“In the Beginning” by Henri Blocher

Posted in body of Christ, book review, christian thought, discipleship, theology by Nathan Creitz on December 8, 2008

41fjpd8hg1lHenri Blocher is a Professor of Theology at Wheaton College. His book: In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis is both helpful and informative. It is academic, yet accessible to those of us who aren’t specialists. Blocher does a masterful job of explaining not only the purpose of Genesis, but also deftly maneuvers the controversial difficulties that have arisen especially in the modern era as science has advanced.

In Chapter 1, Blocher talks about the approach to Genesis. Dominating the discussion is the question of whether to approach Genesis literally or figuratively. Before reaching his conclusions, however, Blocher spends some time talking about the role of science in the interpretation of Scripture. Blocher presents the main approaches to this question: Concordism which seeks to rectify science with the Bible, “anti-scientism” which is Blocher’s view of creationism (the alternative to evolutionary theory), and fideism which seems to suppress the issue altogether. Blocher proposes a new way that allows science to “serve” our approach to studying Genesis, but not authoritatively. God’s Word is the authority and Blocher tries to take the positive advances of concordism, anti-scientism, and fideism and use those positives to help understand the book of Genesis. When he concludes the chapter talking about the literal or literary interpretation of Genesis 1, the reader can see that this is a unique story unlike any other story ever written.

Chapter 2 is a specific look at the week of Creation and it is Blocher’s view that the seven days are a literary device used to show the framework of God’s creating act. He writes, “The proofs we have given [in chapter 1] of the author’s careful structuring of his material would be enough to warn us not to suppose that the sevenfold shape is either imaginary or incidental.” (39) In this chapter, Blocher approaches four major interpretations of Genesis 1 in order of probability. Opponents may disagree, but the order in which Blocher organizes the probability of these theories begins with the reconstructionist theory as the least probable. This theory believes God reconstructed His creation after the fall of the devil. Next comes the concordist interpretation which is the idea that the days in Genesis 1 are ages or geological eras. Thirdly, Blocher deals with the literal interpretation that says the days are literal 24 hour days. Finally, Blocher believes the literary interpretation to be the best and he spends the rest of the chapter making the case for this interpretation.

Chapter 3 is about the content of Genesis 1. Rather than focusing on the framework and what that means, Blocher encourages the reader not to lose sight of the real purpose of Genesis. He suggests that if we get too caught up in science and creation then we may forget all that God is communicating to us. We can be distracted from the fact that God created ex nihilo, we can forget the work of all the members of the Trinity in the act of creation – including the Spirit, we can forget some of the characteristic nature of God (like He is a God of peace, not of disorder), etc. It is important to consider the purpose rather than just the conflict with modern science when we study Genesis.

Chapter 4 has to do with the Image of God and how humans are image bearers, unique among all the animals in their relationship with God. Blocher first makes sure we are sufficiently humble in our understanding of being “in the image of God”, in that we are “only an image.” “Mankind is infinitely lower than his Creator.” (82) With that humility as the backdrop, Blocher then turns to the privileged status we have over the rest of creation and talks about what it means to be made in the image of God.

In chapter 5, Blocher writes about the relationship between man and woman. The man and the woman are different sexually, with differing roles and yet they are connected. He treats “from the rib” as figurative language for their connectedness and relationship with one another Blocher supports this assertion when he says, “The Arabs apparently use the expression ‘He is my rib’ to mean ‘He is my close friend.'” (99) Blocher concludes the chapter by talking about the institution of marriage and that “the charter of marriage is summarized in Genesis 2:24” (108), that is, at least implicitly.

Chapter 6 focuses on covenant. Even though that word doesn’t exist in Genesis 2, Blocher believes it to be of primary importance for understanding that chapter. The outline of the covenant is found in the text according to Blocher. “Eden is the covenant gift.” (120) The two trees in the garden become “the chief provisions of the covenant agreement.” (121). “You shall surely die” is the penalty for breaking the covenant. This outline implies a covenant between God and Adam.

Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the breaking of the covenant and the penalty for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Blocher suggests that at the heart of their disobedience was the desire to claim autonomy. This disobedience “overthrows the created order.” (154) As a result of breaking the provisions of the covenant agreement, Adam and Eve must die. However, they don’t “cease to be” as is our normal understanding of death. Instead, our understanding of death must “broaden and diversify”. It is not mere physical death but it is of a spiritual nature. Blocher writes, “As soon as the disobedience is committed, the beauty and harmony of existence is shattered, and in their place come shame, fear and pathetic excuses.” (173) Their death is a result of their “claim to be like God in their autonomy.” God curses the man, the woman, and the snake and sends them out of the harmonious existence of Eden (the covenant gift).

Finally, Blocher concludes in chapter 9 by talking about the nature of the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Much is written here about Adam and Eve’s son Cain who killed his brother Abel. “Sin proliferates along with mankind.” (197) but God is merciful and though it seems that only God’s justice is on display in the opening chapters of Genesis there is an element of grace. For one thing, Blocher writes that God kept Adam and Eve from eating from both trees because that would’ve been unthinkable. He hinders the completion of the Tower of Babel by confusing their language. This is to prevent the unthinkable from happening. Therefore, God’s justice is merciful. But ultimately, it is through the promise of the seed of the woman that we see the grace of God on full display.

Blocher concludes with a very helpful appendix on “Scientific Hypotheses and the beginning of Genesis”. Several scientific theories are given and this appendix helps to show that there is some harmony in science and the Bible. Taken together, every chapter of this book is both descriptive of events as found in the opening chapters of Genesis and relevant for many of today’s controversies surrounding those chapters. Blocher’s work is a commentary on Genesis that is helpful to the pastor, the theologian, and the general laity.


2 Responses

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  1. Commonly Sensible said, on December 12, 2008 at 8.38 am

    Ever applied rational thought? Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of the Dawkinsian Cult but a little common sense shows us that the belief structures of the world are flawed in their dealings with the evolutionists.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 12, 2008 at 8.57 am

      Can you be more specific on what you disagree with? It’s hard to have a rational conversation when there is no rational question. If you’ve read Blocher and you’ve read my posts, then you will know that the literary framework hypothesis allows room for modern scientific theories without allowing those theories to influence our method of Biblical interpretation. I think the evolutionary theory has a long way to go regardless of my Biblical theology. It has its own problems, but that’s beside the point. If you haven’t read Blocher or my posts and you are reacting in knee-jerk fashion to what you perceive to be an irrational post from the conservative evangelical viewpoint then there’s nothing more to discuss. I would be happy to dialogue with you here about faith and science, but don’t accuse me of not thinking. God is the author of Truth and His children are never afraid of it. Not only did He author the Bible but He is the Author of creation. Please apply rational thought to your comments and I will be happy to respond.

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