"Genesis 1-4" By C. John Collins. A Review

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary
C. John Collins
P&R Publishing Company
P.O. Box 817
Phillipsburg, NJ 08865
ISBN: 9780875526195; 2006; $17.99

Within the Christian family, there are corners where spats and squabbles quickly erupt around several hot issues, one of which is about origins and the opening chapters of Genesis. C. John “Jack” Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, accomplished author, Old Testament chair on the translation committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible and Old Testament Editor for the ESV Study Bible, has several times waded into these roiling waters. In 2006 he masterfully tackled the opening chapters of the Pentateuch in his 336 page paperback “Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary” where he did the necessary grunt work of hammering out a discourse analysis approach of these four seminal chapters. The material is academic, exegetical, theological, apologetic and devotional. Though penned for fellow scholars and serious students of Scripture, the uninitiated in Biblical languages can still gain much from the volume and follow most of the thinking Collins develops. Because there are already numerous reviews that cover the technicalities of the book I will simply refer to a few items that stick out to me.

Since I personally take the more literal side of the discussion I disagree with Collins’ conclusion that Genesis 1.1-2.3 do not recount seven twenty-four hour days. In the author’s words, “the days are God’s workdays, their length is neither specified nor important, and not everything in the account needs to be taken as historically sequential” (124). Nevertheless the author’s careful analysis of the first four chapters of Genesis is overwhelmingly solid and sturdy. Collins affirms the historical Adam and Eve explaining why they matter and stands against macroevolution of humankind. He points out several times the “priority of the man” at the beginning and how Adam was made the representative head of the human race, without getting side tracked. Collins also unpacks and emphasizes the way in which God sets the paradigm for wedlock, work and worship in first two chapters of Genesis. Additionally, he highlights the goodness of creation and how redemption is not only intended to restore humankind to the creational pattern, but will also heal creation. Likewise, the author builds a robust case for Mosaic authorship of Genesis 1-4, as well as the reminder of Genesis and the Pentateuch. And he resoundingly shows the legitimacy and literary connectedness of these first four chapters. Though written over ten years ago, many of the conclusions the author draws from the initial chapters of Genesis are germane to several of the social flash-points detonating in the 21st Century, plus specific discussions underway in my own denomination. Collins’ evaluation and presentation is extensively solid and sturdy.

In “Genesis 1-4” one of the areas where the author’s perception comes forth beautifully is the place of God’s moral law and its relation to creation. According to Collins, “if we examine the Ten Commandments we see the aspect of restoring creation at work”, after which he gives short samples of how this is the case. Then he explains some noteworthy consequences that come from the connection between the Moral Law and creation. “First, the fact that the commandments are rooted in creation makes it hard to understand how they could ever be done away with…For God to abolish any moral principle whose object was to equip people to live out their creational pattern would be cruelty, not love…Second, this shows why one of the chief attitudes that the Old Testament cultivates toward the law is astonished gratitude at the awesome dignity it bestows…Third, to speak of covenantal ethics as restorative reminds us how moral demands such as the Ten Commandments properly function among the people of God: not as a list of requirements to which they must measure up…but rather as the shape into which they – as individuals and as a body – are to be molded as they cooperate with the love of their Covenant Lord. Fourth, this guides the people of God in their relationships with those outside the covenant” (131-2). Later in the book he puts it this way, “God redeems his people in order to restore them to their proper functioning, and he gives them the guidance of his moral law as a gift to shape them, not as a standard to which they must live up or die. Moral law is a gift of the Creator’s love. This means we do not love people if we do not care to point them to the Creator’s own moral code” (276).

All told, “Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary” is clearly a solid and sturdy work. Collins addresses important arguments against taking these biblical chapters seriously and gives the readers a renewed sense of their authenticity and authority. This volume should be read by Old Testament professors, pastors, Bible teachers, and all interested origins and the opening chapters of Genesis. Even with the few disagreements I have with the book, I enthusiastically commend it.


Unknown said…
Collins has written this on Genesis 1 and 2 elsewhere: “...what we may call exalted prose narrative. This name for the genre will serve us in several ways. First, it acknowledges that we are dealing with prose narrative…which will include the making of truth claims about the world in which we live. Second, by calling it exalted, we are recognizing that… we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.” [C.John Collins Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006.) p.44.]
The problem with this is that, in other parts of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2 are taken in a literalistic manner...Exodus 20, for instance, as well as numerous references to the historical Adam. I know that Prof Collins subscribes to an historical Adam (although he has speculated about him being head of a "tribe" in one article (?)), but it would seem (at least to me) that without a 'literalistic' view of Genesis 1 and 2 an historical Adam is, at best, difficult to maintain.
mphilliber said…
Andrew, I would agree with you. As I stated in the review I hold to the more literal twenty-four-hour-seven-day understanding. That said, I think (and it's my opinion from what little I've read of Collins' works) that with regard to your 2nd paragraph, Collins holds to a literal Adam and Eve and perceives that there would be serious issues if they weren't true. But he also may be thinking out-loud about what other possibilities might possibly fit without affirming them (it was in his piece in the "Four Views of the Historical Adam' book). I'm not defending him, just pointing out what it seemed to me he was doing. Thanks for taking the time to read the review and comment. Mike

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