The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One: A Multi-Layered Approach

Written by Gregg Davidson and Kenneth J. Turner Reviewed By Steven W. Guest

Davidson and Turner invite the readers to come out of the “fortified theological trenches” that they have constructed to defend their unidimensional, dogmatic views regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1. This invitation is offered on the premise that Genesis 1, like the rest of Scripture, ought to be read from the perspective that the Creator God who inspired the Bible could very well have incorporated multiple layers of complementary truth into this ancient text.

In the introduction, the authors set forth their task, state their hermeneutical presuppositions and biblical convictions, then address most of the probable questions and objections to their proposal for reading Genesis 1. In chapter 2, they discuss the peculiarities and inconsistencies included in Jesus’s genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 to demonstrate that the biblical text may “freely employ literary devices and accommodation or challenge cultural norms in ways that may run counter to modern literary expectations” (pp. 21–22). They then highlight how literary devices and accommodation in Genesis 1—namely, the twofold separation of light from darkness, the “separation of light from the absence of light,” the evenings and mornings of the first three days before the creation of the sun, and the repeated occurrence of the number seven (or factors of seven)—betray an “underlying richness to the text” (pp. 23–24).

The greater part of the book is devoted to a careful explanation of the commonly proposed frameworks that are proffered for interpreting Genesis 1. While the individual discussions are not exhaustive, the main points are explained fairly and clearly. Chapters 3–9 introduce and review the following interpretive grids: Song, Analogy, Polemic, Covenant, Temple, Calendar, and Land. Unlike the Counterpoints series (published by Zondervan Academic), these chapters do not attempt to compare and critique each view in light of the others. Rather, the authors argue that these frameworks are complementary “layers” that not only draw out meaning on their own but also overlap with one another to reveal deeper significance from the text of Genesis 1. While these dynamics are not highlighted in every chapter, Davidson and Turner do suggest some creative interplays between the layers that underscore their argument that these interpretive grids are not mutually exclusive. Each chapter concludes with a section called “Challenges and Responses.” Herein the authors address questions and objections that might be raised as to the legitimacy of the interpretive methodology of each layer that is presented.

The concluding chapter offers “short summaries of the main points or themes of each layer before addressing lingering questions readers may have” (p. 167). Reviewing each layer in sequence, the authors also highlight a characteristic aspect of God’s nature that is illumined by that layer—Song portrays God as artist, Analogy depicts God as farmer, Polemic affirms God as “I Am,” Covenant represents God as suzerain, Temple speaks of God as presence, Calendar reminds us that the Creator is the God of Sabbath, and Land establishes an eschatological hope of God as Redeemer. After each summary, there is a single paragraph that delineates how that layer points to aspects of the person and work of Christ.

Given that the book is co-authored by a professor of geology (Davidson) and a professor of Old Testament (Turner), one may have anticipated that the book would either offer a scientific commentary on Genesis 1 with biblical supporting arguments or offer a commentary on Genesis 1 with scientific evidence to support the biblical interpretation. Such works are often used to defend a favored interpretation of Genesis 1 and thereby define the limits of orthodoxy which tends to fracture the Christian community. However, the authors’ intention in writing this book is to turn our internecine diatribes into dialogue.

A fundamental conviction that informs this work is that the contemporary reader should “understand the [biblical] text through the eyes of the original audience” (p. 7). As the authors discuss each of the layers that are commonly proposed as interpretive grids for understanding Genesis 1, they explain how each layer would have been perceived by the ancient Near Eastern audience. This opens vistas for understanding that many contemporary readers miss when they read the opening chapter of the Bible from a literalist point of view or through the lens of a single layer.

This monograph is informative, accessible, and largely free of technical jargon or highly complex arguments. In almost every chapter, the authors provide numerous tables that visually distill the information that is presented. Occasional illustrations elucidate specific points, and strategic text box inserts supplement the content for the reader. This book would be suitable for any interested reader who desires to understand the message of the first chapter of the Bible. Each chapter of the book includes discussion questions that facilitate deeper learning or could provide the structure for a meaningful conversation with others in a study group—possibly in a Christian school Bible class, a church-based “book club,” or in a college classroom.

Steven W. Guest

Steven W. Guest
Baptist Theological College Cebu Graduate School of Theology
Cebu, Philippines

Other Articles in this Issue

This article examines Christopher Nolan’s three most recent films, Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017), and Tenet (2020), through the lens of Christianity’s preeminent theological virtues: love, hope, and faith, respectively...

Syncretism—the blending of two or more religious paradigms—threatens Christian witness around the world...

Mark 2:26 has presented itself as a difficult textual and historical problem for interpreters...

Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:1–7 can be applied to Christian voting behavior in the West...

This article is a response to Robert Golding’s recent essay, “Making Sense of Hell,” in which he contends for the logic of eternal punishment on the basis of a progressive and asymptotic conception of sin and sinners in hell...