Creation and Providence >>back home

(i)    The relationship between Creation and Providence

Unlike 'creation', 'providence' is not a word found in our familiar versions of the Bible. Nevertheless as a theological idea it has abundant biblical justification (see for instance Gen.45.7; Pss.65.9; 104.27,28: Matt.10.29,30; Luke 2.1‑7 with Micah 5.2: Acts 10.1‑23). Indeed, the theme of God's providential ordering of events is extremely prominent in Scripture1. This being so, what is the relationship between Creation and Providence? Various views may be put forward: Creation initiates, Providence sustains; Creation is miraculous, Providence follows 'natural law'; and so on. The view suggested here is a little different. The Bible, it implies, regards any event as originating both creation‑wise and also providence‑wise. Creation‑wise, it originates in the mind and utterance of God; providence‑wise, it is linked with what precedes and follows it in the arena of space‑time. This distinction was illustrated in Chap. IV by the example of the individual's creation, for Jeremiah was already known in the mind of God before he was being providentially formed in the womb (Jer.1.5). The passage 2Pet.3.4‑7 notes that the world has continuing existence because in the beginning God's word created it (vv. 4b,5a,7a). But what happened in history ‑ the deluge, v.6 ‑ is not linked in the same way with that word; it comes rather into the category of historical providence. The only other comparable use in the New Testament of the verb sunistemi (2Pet.3.5c: 'having been held together by the word of God' ) is in Co1.1.17. where it is translated 'consist'. Here it clearly seems to refer to the sustained existence of the world rather than to historical happenings. This is presumptive evidence that such existence is here linked to the creative mind of God, rather than to His providential ordering of history. But Peter goes further. Having spoken of the role of the Word in creation (vv.4.5). he proceeds to say (v.7), 'By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of Judgement'. This can be regarded as supporting the interpretation: 'creation' looks to God's unseen bringing into being, and holding in being, 'providence' to His visible ordering of history. But God, in different senses, is sovereignly the author in both.

(ii) 'According to its kind'

The Hebrew word translated thus (lemînāh)2is composed of three elements: the noun mîn (kind, species); the pronominal suffix āh (its); and the 'inseparable' preposition le. A critical question in deciding whether the Bible teaches 'special creation' or not is clearly the meaning of the preposition le. The basic sense of this is 'to, for, in regard to', but its usage is fairly wide; about sixteen columns (eight pages) of the Lexicon of Brown, Driver and Briggs are devoted to it. Their section in which the relevant instances figure is headed: 'Of reference to a norm or standard, according to, after, by.' Some typical references they quote are (1) Gen. 1: 11, 8:19; Numb. 1:2,20; and (2) Gen. 13:3; Exod. 17:1 (my subdivision). The example in Gen. 1 is, of course, the one we wish to understand. The others (which should be consulted in the RV, which keeps very close to the original) are worth examining. The thrust, semantically, of the phrase 'after their families' in Gen. 8:19, is to emphasize that the exodus from the Ark constituted not an undifferentiated and confused movement of animal life but an organized and disciplined one. Variety and order were its hallmarks. Similarly, in Numb. 1:2,20 (where the preposition, occurring three times, is translated by in RV) it is the diversification and well‑orderedness that are prominent. In the second pair of references the semantic thrust is similar. Gen. 13:3 pictures Abraham as taking not an undivided journey to Bethel, but as proceeding by a number of distinct stages (compare 'on his journeys' RV with RSV, NIV). Similarly, Exod. 17:1 uses the construction to the same effect (again compare RV 'by their journeys' with RSV, NIV). In a further common use (again following the Lexicon) the effect is distributive. Thus in Isaiah 33:2 'by mornings' means simply 'every morning' (RV, RSV).

We may sum up by saying that it is entirely reasonable to interpret the phrase in Genesis 1 as simply but pointedly gathering up all the ordered and varied categories under discussion and affirming that they came‑to‑be through the creative command of God (cf. John 1:3). This is far from positively teaching 'Special Creation'.

We can probably argue further. In Genesis 1 lemînāh and its related forms are used in three settings only: (1) after 'God said'; (2) with the verb bārā' (create); (3) with the general verb 'āsâ (do, make) which can serve as a simple literary alternative to bārā' (cf. Gen. 1:26,27; 5:1,2). It is not used with verbs (such as yāsar, form) which imply the use of material and process. If the distinction which has been drawn between the biblical ideas of creation and providence is valid, then the fact that lemînāh is used only in these settings (all viewing origins from the standpoint of creation rather than of providence) is probably significant. 'Special creation' (like evolution) must rank logically as a providential process, even if it is instantaneous. It seeks to answer the question, 'Biologically, how?'; and its answer can be described only in terms of space, time, and the material biosphere (as the 'scientific creationists' recognize). Thus, if true, it would properly belong to the providence story of origins, and as such would not have the benefit of lemînāh even if that benefit were forthcoming. For this additional reason therefore 'special creation' cannot be established from Genesis.

NOTES

1     It is well expressed in the Collect for Trinity 8 in the Book of Common Prayer; "0 God, Whose never‑failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth . . "

2    This is the form following the singular feminine noun 'creature'

      (Gen.1.24 RV).