Genesis is the first book of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah also called the Pentateuch (five books) in Greek. Genesis covers the period from Creation to the deaths of Jacob and his 11th son, Joseph, in about 1,650 BCE, if the accounts are historical.
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, and these sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
Today’s reading describes the first day of the seven-day “First Creation Story.” It is part of the “Priestly” tradition written in the period from 550 to 450 BCE. The name used for God in this account is “Elohim” (literally, “the gods”) and is different name from the name (YHWH or “LORD God”) used in the Second Creation Story (Gen. 2:4b – 24). The Second Creation Story is part of the “Yahwistic” tradition dated to about 970 to 930 BCE – the reigns of David and Solomon.
The First Creation Story emphasizes order and categorizing by separation. Priestly writers portrayed order and precision as leading to “Shalom” (peace, good order). It is noteworthy that creation is not “out of nothing” (creation ex nihilo) but describes God as creating by bringing order out of a “formless void” (v. 2) and a watery chaos (“the deep” and “the waters”).
Overcoming the chaos of the ocean was also an important theme in the Babylonian Creation Myth (the “Enuma Elish”) which the Judeans would have encountered during the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE).
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written by the author of the Gospel According to Luke around 85 to 90 CE. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with an account of the Ascension. The last 13 chapters describe Paul’s Missionary Journeys – not always consistently with Paul’s letters.
Today’s reading is set in Ephesus and is part of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, one that began in Antioch in Syria and ended in Jerusalem. Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey, and was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. According to Acts 19:10, Paul spent two years in Ephesus converting both Jews and Greeks and performing miracles (v.11).
One of the major themes of both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is the impact of the Holy Spirit – often portrayed as the driving force for all that happens. Today’s reading is an example of the prominence the author of Luke/Acts gives to the Holy Spirit.