The Creator is the Redeemer
My posts typically focus on establishing the historical context for biblical creation texts. Doing this helps us see that biblical authors were asking ancient questions, not modern ones. Missing that historical dimension is one source of the present confusion and even animosity surrounding the conversation between the Bible and science.
But there is more to understanding the biblical idea of creation. It is also important to see how a historically rooted notion of creation in Genesis plays out elsewhere in the Old Testament and then finally, in the New.
Last week we dropped in the middle of that discussion by looking at the two episodes in the Gospels where Jesus shows mastery over the water. Understanding the Old Testament backdrop of Yahweh, who creates by taming the watery chaos, brings depth to the Gospel stories. This is one example of where insights gained from historical study can provide deeper theological understanding.
This week I want to touch on a larger and more prominent aspect of creation in the Old and New Testaments: creation and redemption are two sides of the same coin. Redemption is an act of creation.
A central theme in the Old Testament is that Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is worthy of Israel’s worship. Why is he worthy of exclusive worship? Two reasons: (1) Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is the creator. That is a message that begins in Genesis 1. (2) The creator is also Israel’s redeemer. Creation and redemption are connected in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, it inspired confidence in Israel that the creator would also be its redeemer. In fact, this connection was so close that the Israelites at times described their redemption in creation language.
The exodus and return from Babylon are the two major redemptive events in the Old Testament, and they are described in numerous places as acts of creation. For example, Psalm 77:16-20 recounts the exodus. In v. 16, note that the Red Sea is described as “writhing” and “convulsing” at the “sight” of God. This is cosmic battle/creation language, which we looked at in previous posts. Redeeming the Israelites calls to mind God’s act of taming the waters in Genesis 1. The power at work back then is also at work now.
Psalm 136:1-9 is similar. The psalmist praises Yahweh for creating the cosmos using language reminiscent of Genesis 1. But in v. 10, without missing a beat, this “creation psalm,” brings up the exodus. Then in v. 13 we read that Yahweh “divided the Red Sea asunder.” Again, this calls to mind Genesis 1:6-8, where, in creating the world, God divided the water above from the water below (see also Psalm 74:12-17 where God “split open the sea”). “Dividing” the sea is a theme the Old Testament shares with other ancient creation texts, as can be seen in the link above.
Creation and exodus are intertwined. The creator was active again in delivering Israel from Egypt.
The deliverance from Babylon is also connected to the act of creation. In Isaiah 48:12-16, the same God who “laid the foundations of the earth” and “spread out the heavens” (v. 13) will now unleash that same creative power to redeem Israel from Babylon (see also 40:12-31; 43:1-7, 16-21; 51:9-11). The God who acted back then as creator is now about to act in the same way as redeemer.
For both the exodus and return from Babylon, confidence in God’s present act of redemption is rooted in his past act of creation.
What we see in the Old Testament is raised to a higher level in the New. God’s redemptive act in Christ is so thoroughly transformative that creation language is needed to describe it.
John’s Gospel famously begins “In the beginning was the Word….” The echo of Genesis 1:1 is intentional and unmistakable. Jesus’ entire redemptive ministry means there is now a new beginning, a starting over—a new creation. This Jesus, who is the Word, who was with God at the very beginning, through whom all things were made, is now walking among us as redeemer (John 1:1-5). Those who believe in him are no longer born of earthly parents but “born of God” (vv. 12-13). They start over. The language of “born again” later in John (3:3) points in the same direction.
The creator is here, in the flesh, to redeem; when you are redeemed by him, you are created anew.
The same point is made in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” “New creation” is an apt summary of the Gospel. The good news is that there is a new state of being where “creation” is happening again for those who believe. Along with the Israelites, Christians say, “The God who acted back then in creation is, once again, active here and now in Christ.”
Central to all of this is the resurrection of Jesus. Rising from the dead is the true beginning of this new mode of existence in which believers—right here and now—take part. Believing in Jesus means you are benefiting from Jesus’ resurrection already now in the new life you experience by the power of the Spirit. As Paul puts it, those who are “in Christ” have been raised with Christ here and now to a new life (Ephesians 2:6) Conversion is much more than believing a set of doctrines; it is a transformation from the inside out, a new life—a new creation.
Redemption is not simply for people; Jesus’ redemptive program is cosmic, as we can see in Romans 8:19-21. Creation itself awaits its chance to start over, its “liberation from bondage.” Cosmic re-creation finds its final expression in Revelation 22:1-5. In the beautifully symbolic language that characterizes the entire book, we read that the cosmos has become the new Garden, complete with not one but two trees of life, where there is no longer any curse.
The Bible ends where it begins, at creation. The goal of redemption all along has been to get us back to the Garden, back to the original plan of the created order. To be redeemed means to take part in the creative work of God. The hints are there in the Old Testament, and the final reality of it is ultimately accomplished through the resurrection of the Son of God.
Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.