Interpreting Genesis, Let there be light; יְהִי אוֹר

A few months ago I began reading Metaphysics and the God of Israel by Neil B. MacDonald. It is a challenging read, but one that is worth investing time in. In these days, where many want to first interpret natural science and than apply it to the text of Genesis 1:1-11, I think the most important thing is to properly interpret the text itself, without reading anything into it in terms of natural science. Not that the text can’t be read in this way, but science is not the only form of knowledge by in which we can know truth.

Some terms to understand what is being said;

  1. locutionary act, the performance of an utterance: the actual utterance and its ostensible meaning, comprising phonetic, phatic and rhetic acts corresponding to the verbal, syntactic and semantic aspects of any meaningful utterance.
  2. an illocutionary act: the pragmatic ‘illocutionary force’ of the utterance, thus its intended significance as a socially valid verbal action.

The first chapter “The First Two Days of Creation: Time and Space” where he heavily relies on Claus Westermann’s exegesis on Genesis 1:3 in his commentary Genesis 1-11: A Continental Commentary which I recommend highly. In it, he applies the speech act theory to the saying “Let there be light.” Westermann contends that at this point God isn’t really creating anything; he is creating the possibility of something (1). More is to be said on theories of time, A-B theories, how God relates to time and how time existed before God created the universe we now experience. What God was creating was the possibility of something other than Himself. He was creating temporal successiveness. He concludes it by summing up this way;

“From Claus Westermann’s exegesis we learned that in saying, “Let there be light”, God was creating temporal successiveness. Putting the speech-act theory and Westermann together, we can see that there are two different actions at work here. One is the locutionary action corresponding to the God saying “Let there be light”. The other is the illocutionary action- which is other than the locutionary action- corresponding to God creating the possibility of time…”(2)

(1) Metaphysics and the God of Israel, pg. 9,  MacDonald, B Neil, Baker Academic 2006

(2) Metaphysics and the God of Israel, pg. 18,  MacDonald, B Neil, Baker Academic 2006

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