Creation and Doxology: A Portrait of Biblical Creation Theology (pt. 1)


In many conservative evangelical circles, biblical creation theology has been hijacked and eclipsed by the vitriolic debate between Young Earth Creationism and Neo-Darwinism.[1] It is often difficult to see beyond this morass the beautiful tapestry of creation themes in biblical theology. Waltke summarizes the problem well: “Instead of metaphysical questions that shape culture, questions about dinosaurs, a young earth theory, and such dominate the evangelical landscape. This is unfortunate.”[2] Nevertheless, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Scripture’s use of creation themes, whether the evangelical community gives them appropriate attention or not. Unfortunately, a comprehensive analysis of biblical creation theology, a field fertile enough to provide lifetimes of work and study, far exceeds the purview of this essay.[3] However, a brief analysis of the motifs of creation as temple, chaos, and redemption will show that the overarching use of creation theology in Scripture is to bring about the praise of the Creator. Biblical creation theology, properly understood, leads to doxology.


A fitting place to begin this study is the creation account of Gen 1:1-2:3, which depicts the cosmos as Elohim’s holy temple.[4] Although other ancient cosmogonies prominently feature a particular location or building as the nexus for worship of the respective deities, Gen 1 contains no such element. [5]  Indeed, other creation accounts in the ANE associated the lack of a temple with the “precosmic condition.” That is, creation (the expression of divine authority) was not regarded as complete until the temple (the location for the implementation of divine authority) was constructed.[6] The cosmogony of Gen 1 thus seems strange when compared to its ANE counterparts, but this anomaly reveals the main emphasis of the passage: the entire universe is the sacred dwelling place of Elohim.

The structure of the narrative lends itself to this “cosmic temple” interpretation. In the first three days of creation (1:1-13), Elohim calls three “spheres” into being, relating to the main “functions” of life: light/darkness (time), water/sky (weather), and land/sea (food).[7] He then proceeds to create in days four through six (1:14-31), assigning the “functionaries” of creation their respective roles and spheres.[8] The scene is then set for the climax of the narrative, which is not the creation of humans, but the installation of the Sabbath (2:1-3).

If the connection between this Sabbath rest and creation as temple is not apparent to the modern reader, it is due to a lack of knowledge of where divine rest takes place.[9] Upon reading that Elohim “rested” (Gen 2:2), the ancient reader would have immediately recognized that this was taking place in a divine temple, the exclusively-appropriate place for any god to rest and proceed to rule his domain from the throne.[10] However, the English “rest” does not fully reflect the meaning of the Hebrew “שָׁבַּת, shabbat,” which refers to “the completion of certain activity with which one had been occupied.”[11] After completing the creative transition from non-functional chaotic waters to a stable and functional temple, Elohim “rests,” and the cosmos may now operate normally, with him in control.[12] The clearest Scriptural compilation of all these ideas occurs in Isa 66:1-2a:

This is what the Lord says:

The heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where then is the house you will build for me? Where is the place where I will rest? My hand made them; that is how they came to be,” says the Lord.[13]

Doxologically, the creation of the universe as Elohim’s temple provides the impetus and parameters for appropriate worship of the Creator, whose “majestic splendor fills the entire earth” (Isa 6:3). As the only inhabitants of the cosmic temple created in the image (צֶ֫לֶם, tselem) of Elohim, humans were created to function as “priest-kings”, extending his rule and dominion throughout the entire sacred realm of creation (Gen 1:26-28).[14] Through the lens of creation as temple, therefore, worship is relational, designed to be mediated by Elohim’s beloved priest-kings as they live in perfect relationship with him, with each other, and with the rest of creation, a full vision of the divine rest appropriate to Elohim’s cosmic temple.[15]

However, there is a tension between creation as it is now experienced and as it has just been described.[16] Genesis 3 gives the tragic explanation: Sin and Death, God’s cosmic enemies, have infected and affected every layer of the cosmic temple,[17] pulling the universe backwards, so to speak, toward the chaotic watery depths from which it was called into being. If the temple is no longer “safe,” is appropriate worship still possible?


[1] For a thoroughly cordial discussion of the debate, however, see the summary in Daniel J. Treier, “Creation.” In Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 144.

[2]Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu, “Chapter 7: The Gift of the Cosmos” In An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 174.

[3] This is by no means an exhaustive list, but each of the following abandoned section headings (due to length limitations) represents its own “fertile field” within biblical creation theology: Creation and Ethics, Creation Undone: Judgment and Exile as Creation in Reverse, Creation and Wisdom, and Creation and Ecology.

[4] The theme of the cosmos as God’s temple is taken up at several other points in the OT. For example, consider the depictions of the heavens as a sheik’s tent stretched out for God to dwell in (Job 9:8; Ps 104:1-3; Isa 40:22; cf. 42:5; 51:13). See Waltke and Yu 2007, 205. The clearest statements, however, are found in 1 Kgs 8:27, Isa 6:3, and most especially Isa 66:1-2a (discussed below). See Walton 2009, 83-4.

In this section I rely heavily on Walton’s “Proposition 8: The Cosmos is a Temple,” a key piece in his “cosmic temple inauguration” view of Genesis 1. See John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 74-86; 162-168.

[5] Michael W. Pahl, The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 19.

[6] Walton 2009, 78.

[7] Ibid., 54-62. (“Proposition 5: Days One to Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions”).

[8] Ibid., 63-71. (“Proposition 6: Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries”).

[9] Ibid., 72-7. The pertinent information in this paragraph (other than the biblical references below) comes from Walton’s succinct and cogent argument explaining the significance of Elohim’s Sabbath rest in the “cosmic temple inauguration” view (“Proposition 7: Divine Rest Is in a Temple”).

[10] Cf. Pss 2:4; 11:4; 14:2 (as cited by Waltke and Yu 2007, 205).

[11] See the New English Translation’s (NET Bible) appropriate rendering of Gen 1:2b: “and he ceasedon the seventh day all the work that he had been doing.”

[12] The transition from a “ceasing rest” (שָׁבַת, shabbat) into stability can be seen in the use of the Hebrew term נ֫וּחַ (nuha, entering stability, safety, or security) to describe God’s rest in Exodus 20:11. See Walton 2009, 73.

[13] NET Bible, emphasis added. See Walton 2009, 83-4.

[14] Pahl, The Beginning and the End, 19-20.

[15] The link between divine rest and the cosmos as temple brings together several passages in the OT and NT. Consider how Heb 3:7-4:11 links the “rest” in Gen 2:2 with Ps 95.  See Randall C. Gleason, “The Old Testament background of rest in Hebrews 3:7-4:11.” Bibliotheca Sacra 157, no. 627 (July 1, 2000): 281-303.

[16] This same tension is in view in Rom 1:16-32, where Paul contrasts the righteousness of God (which he will defend through the entire epistle) with the present state of the world.

[17] I am indebted to Dr. Timothy Gombis (Ph.D., University of St. Andrews) for this phraseology regarding Sin and Death.

By joshuapsteele

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  1. I think the aggresive nature of the secular culture has required a lot of attention, by Christians, to the “how” of creation. We cannot really avoid the topic. But you are on target here. In the Bible the focus is much more on the “why”. We easily forget that. Grandpa B

    1. Agreed! The “when” and “how” questions are vitally important. What must be remembered when we turn to the Scriptures, though, is that the creation accounts in Genesis were not written to directly answer those questions. There’s plenty of “ammo,” so to speak, in the Bible to refute a naturalistic explanation of origins. What’s more, there’s plenty of problems within modern evolutionary theories that need to be addressed. However, it’s going to take more work than the “literal” readings of Genesis which don’t do a good job of considering the historical and literary context of the creation passages.

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