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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
Having just begun a study of Genesis when I purchased this book, I must say that it was money well spent. Collins is the general editor of the Old Testament translation of the English Standard Version (ESV), a newer and highly 'literal' Bible. His proficiency in ancient languages and literature, philology, theology, exegetics, source studies and theories, and biblical scholarship generally (ancient, modern, recent, and current) is evident throughout this volume and is consistently a necessary antidote to dogmatic and sometimes reckless expositions by supposed experts of both the conservative and liberal varieties. At once Collins is orthodox, cautious (appropriately tentative), informed (scholarly), and given to carefully analyzing the interpretational assertions and shortcomings of all commonly touted exegetic and scholarly schools. Most importantly, he rightly asks that we not defer so readily to our post Enlightenment expectations of 'normal' narrative and instead cooperate with evidences of the author's intent.

There have always been questions and disagreements as to the correct understanding of these texts, and, for the last two centuries, questions and disagreements as to the sources and motives involved in the texts. For Collins, all of these issues, as they relate to the chapters being studied, are scrutinized. After explaining why we must reject the expositional assertions of some readers and scholars--that these texts not be viewed through the lenses of subsequent ancient writers, Collins examines the "allusions, echoes, and reverberations" relating to these texts that we find in later Old Testament, inter-testamental, and New Testament writings.

As must be expected, Collins' expositions and conclusions may not please those who enter into Biblical studies with firm conclusions already demanded at the outset. Some may disapprove of his frequent examination of the inter-testament writings, but to do so would be to misunderstand the larger expositional process. Some may dislike his conclusions regarding the meaning of the Genesis 1 creation "days," but his position seems well supported and appropriately tentative (as I believe any honest treatment must be). He finds the "literal" (i.e., "normal day" or "24-hour day" theory) understanding to be inconsistent with, and uncooperative with, immediate texts and later reverberations. He seems to take a position that embraces the "literary" understanding as to the "days" being structural literary devices, but also goes at least part way with the "day-age" theory in that he sees no reason to set aside the abstract sequence of the discourse. (Collins shows no interest in the "revelation" theory of Genesis 1 days, and it seems that none may be warranted). He is correct that we need not trenchantly encase our understanding in any single theory (if you think you understand how creation worked/works, start reading at Job 38, smarty-pants!) His exposition on the nature of the genealogies of Genesis 4 is informed by a relatively quick but [I believe] decisive examination of echoes (OT, Apocrypha, NT), supporting a conclusion that if one looks to the genealogies as being intended to produce mathematical sums, sharply defining temporal history, one must then choose not to cooperate with the author's intent, which, without doubt, was about lineages and relationships and not about modernist expectations of 'history'. That the genealogies permit (and contain) gaps, even significant gaps, is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt (by direct comparison of echoing accounts). That none of the Bible's writers had any interest in calculating genealogical sums toward the modernists' concept of history, should, of itself, be instructive. This was never their intent.

Having read Richard Friedman's articulation of the Documentary Hypothesis (source criticism, "higher criticism"), I found Collins' treatment of source criticism to be quite valuable. S.R. Driver's positions are critically analyzed as well as Friedman's, and the Documentary Hypothesis receives serious damage from Collins' examination of the literary clues found in these four chapters (the focus of this book), although he suggests that the same result applies to the entire scope of the Documentary Hypothesis if subjected to literary analysis. (As Collins points out, while source criticism traces its inspiration to assumptions that the materialist MUST posit concerning sacred texts, apart from the "motive" aspects of source theories, source criticism, per se, is not inherently incompatible with theistic expectations of scripture.) Before summarizing his treatment of source theories, Collins writes: "Do these pericopes come from separate sources or not? There is no way to answer this question, since the putative sources no longer exist. But for each feature that is put forward to support the source theory, it turns out that literary and grammatical considerations supply a better explanation in terms of the overall flow of the narrative. In other words, if someone produced this text by stitching sources together, he left the seams smooth indeed." pg 231 Stepping briefly beyond the four focus chapters (but with an eye to a tie-in), Collins also discusses the expositions and arguments that K.A. Kitchen has recently brought to bear against the Documentary Hypothesis, showing that, at least certain specific texts within the Pentateuch would have to have been composed in the 12th or 13th century BC, and further, that the texts containing features that can only be explained rationally by placing then in that era would have to have been written by someone with a conspicuous high education in that era's best literary art and style. Among the Hebrews (slaves in Egypt), who could fit this description and be capable of producing the kind of literary eloquence we find in Genesis 1, for example. The obvious candidate is inescapable, his name is Moses ("educated in all the learning of the Egyptians. . . a man of power in words" [Acts 7:22], see also Ex. 2:10, Heb. 11:24-27). No, this doesn't establish, or necessarily even support, the traditional viewpoint that Moses was THE author of the Pentateuch. This traditional view is unwarranted in its extremity, unsupported from scripture, and certainly not Collins' understanding. The full picture of authorship/editorship of the Pentateuch cannot be painted, but the Documentary explanation is unwarranted (though interesting).

A properly informed understanding of these first texts of the Bible is of tremendous value in understanding the whole of scripture (and, as any good contextualist would note, the reciprocal is true as well). This is probably the best book of its kind available.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Collins has produced a truly scholarly and masterful exegesis of the opening chapters of Genesis. With careful attention to the language and conventions of the text, and with an eye towards historic Reformed theology, he argues that the narrative is an "exalted prose narrative" that is at once historically grounded in and analogical to the ordinary human experiences of the text's original readers. This is a useful corrective to those who insist, for example, that the "days" of creation are "ordinary" days, as well as to those who hold that the text is merely mythopoetic. He does this while addressing other views critically but respectfully. Whatever position you hold on the meaning of the Biblical creation narrative, you should admire Collins' work for both its substance and spirit.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I was privileged to read this book in manuscript form. In this commentary, Collins follows up on his intriguing insights developed briefly in his previous book, Science and Faith: Friends of Foes? For anyone searching for a thoughtful, informed, orthodox, and persuasive explanation of the first four chapters of the Bible, this book is simply the best there is.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
C. John Collins (Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary) has written an excellent study of Genesis 1-4. After introductory material and a description of his methodology, the heart of the book is a chapter each on The Creation Week, The Garden of Eden, The Fall, and After Eden. Each of these four chapters includes sections on translations & notes, literary-theological exposition, extra notes, and reverberations (ways in which the material from Genesis has been taken up in the Psalms and the New Testament). Extra Notes include topics like creation from nothing, "evening and morning," the meaning of kind, the image of God, use of the words create and make, the goodness of creation, what were the two trees, how long was the creation week (he favors the analogical days interpretation), was Adam made mortal, the curse and nature, are Adam and Eve the parents of all mankind,where did Cain's wife come from, etc.

These are followed by chapters on Sources, Unity & Authorship (in which he discusses the arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis, then gives his reasons for concluding that Moses is the primary author), The Communicative Purpose, questions of history & science, and appropriating Genesis 1-4 today.

He even explains why he chose to include Genesis 4 in this book about "The Beginning." I found Genesis 1-4 to be a well-documented, well-reasoned study that is eminently suitable for a layman like myself.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Dr. 'Jack' Collins, a professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., has made accessible to laity and laymen alike, a very sound explanation and commentary on perhaps the most important chapters of the Bible. Writing from a conservative, Reformed viewpoint and with an eye of assisting pastors, other scholars and the layman who wishes to educate himself with a sound interpretation of the text, Collins is careful to avoid extremes and his writing is balanced. As he indicates in the introduction, he could have made a very long volume with his notes, but his text is tightly written, with an outstanding bibliography for those who want to dig deeper on the subject.

Collins writes about the Biblical text from what is called a discourse-literary approach, which he judges to be his most important contribution to this first section of the Bible. He wants to show how the ancient languages and literature apply to not only us today, but especially to their first audience, how it fits within the whole of the Bible's canon and what its theological point is. In a sense, he writes and explains the Genesis 1-4 as a story, told to a particular people, with certain language markers that would have mattered greatly to them. This book would fall under the category of Biblical rather than Systematic theology, regarding the text.

It is absolutely essential for the reader to grasp the first section of the book, where Collins explains why and how understanding the literary nature of the text matters. Collins does spend about 200 pages specifically interpreting the text of the four chapters, which makes up the middle section of the book. He concludes the book with a discussion on the authorship (which he asserts was Moses about the time of the Exodus), what the point of Genesis 1-4 was, and finally of special interest to our particular age, a discussion on Genesis 1-4 through history and science.

Collins was a MIT educated engineer before pursuing a ministerial and academic career in theology. His principle comments about modern creation science, that Genesis 1 - 4 neither agrees or disagrees with attempts to force to highly literalistic approach beyond what is in the Bible is consistent with his exegesis of the Bible. Collins, certainly an advocate for special, supernatural creation, is careful to not make the Bible say what others have made it say.

This is an excellent commentary, for pastors and interested laymen alike. The reader will gain fresh perspectives on the text by attempting to understand it first as literature with a theological point, about how the God of the Bible wants to interact with his people, through space and time. The reader probably will not be able to find a more contemporary and accessible book of this kind available today.

If interested in Dr. Collins thoughts specifically on the role of science, faith and origins, the readers might be interested in Science and Faith: Friend or Foes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
While the creation account has long suffered, being at the heart of concentrated attacks from liberal critics, here Collins yolks it to new hermeneutical beginnings. Collins uses a literary-theological approach to look at Genesis 1-4. He undertakes to reconcile the supposedly contrary creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 into one account. 'The only canonical text that we have is the one that puts these two pericopes together and invites us to read them as complementing each other.' p 137 Collins contextualizes the singular "day" of Genesis 2:4 as a resumption of day six in Genesis 1, making it easy to harmonize Genesis 1 and 2. On this view, the "not good" of Genesis 2:18 is antecedent to the "very good" of Genesis 1:31.

Collins proceeds to look at the idyllic world of Genesis 2. The exalted prose of the heavens and the earth as a macrocosm soon give way to the normal prose of the microcosm of the Garden of Eden. He accommodates this centripetal change in focus by exchanging "the earth" in Genesis 1 for "the land" in Genesis 2:5-6, altering the traditional understanding substantially - and favorably. The climax of Genesis 1, the creation of male and female in the image of God, is resumed and explained more fully in Genesis 2. The single prohibition with its emphatic warning "you shall surely die" (2:17) places mankind under authority. Whether it is justified to speak in terms of physical death as the secondary sense, the primary sense of spiritual death 'is by far the more horrible of the two.' p 117, n 57 One by-product of Collin's merger is to demonstrate that the literal day hypothesis flounders as a significant time period needs to elapse for the described climate changes to follow, 'as this would take several years' (p 127). This aligns best with the ESV transition "for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land", and not on the whole earth, remembering that God appointed the cycle of "seasons" in Genesis 1, making seasonal rain possible in the primeval world.

Collins next looks at the relational difficulties that Adam & Eve entered upon in Genesis 3. Dramatic speech-act theory marks the climax: though 'sin' or 'disobedience' is never mentioned in Genesis 3, 'we are not limited to the actual words he uses.' Did Adam & Eve Really Exist? p 25 God, in using the masculine singular pronoun "you" in Genesis 3:9-11, judged Adam as the covenant head of his family and the first of the human race (p 152). To God's blessing the couple in "be fruitful and multiply" (1:28) was added the woman's pain in childbearing, which God causes to "surely multiply" (3:16, p 153). They were admitted into God's presence for the last time only after a blood sacrifice had been made (3:20). Adam's return to the dry land to which God banished him "to work the ground from which he was taken"' (3:23) naturally produced thorns and thistles, and are the means for exacting Adam's 'pain' (p 164). To Collins the precise location of the unnamed land where God first formed Adam, the Garden where God placed him, and the exact length of time of the specified days are not strictly a concern of the author of the Pentateuch. The primary purpose of the account is to analogically exemplify God's workweek, and to specify the covenantal duties that follow; those of work, wedlock (p 130) and that we enter the pattern of God's rest [Heb: shabat] in keeping our Sunday worship of Him.

In Genesis 4 the normal existence of life continues outside the sanctuary, and separated from God's special presence. In their attempts to restore the relationship once marked by unbroken communion with God, the importance of worship takes center stage. The drama is styled in high rhetoric, and pairs off mostly two characters in turn, axiomatically modelling the catechising of godly worship. Moses' intended audience, Israel, recognized in Cain and Abel's acts of worship 'the front end of the Pentateuch and...were geared toward expressing consecration to God and fellowship with Him' (p 200). But the motif of 'pain' matures in the strife of sin-torn relationships (p 210) with sin peaking in the first murder (p 211). Offsetting the foretaste of 'eschatological glory' (p 186) once provided in the Garden of Eden is 'the way of Cain as a paradigm to those who are unfaithful to the covenant' (p 217). The moral decline of Cain's stock was countered with the note of hope put forth in Seth's birth, followed by a new event when "people began to call upon the Name of the LORD" (4:26). Employing the MT, Collins concurs with Gordon Wenham that this describes the origin of regular divine worship (p 208). The subsequent generations, Israel, and we seek through these means to restore the original relationship which involved God's blessing.

After 107 in-text footnotes, and ample others, we have the basis for the ESV reading, and its OT General Editor. On the rare occasion Collins' lexical 'reverberations' of the OT text in NT Scripture seems to be inconclusive, but the OT scholarship is crisp and forceful.

* Thanks to John Grotenhuis for providing me a copy of this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I read several commentaries on the book of Genesis. There was always something good to take, and always a bad impression of the author not willing to look the text face to face.
Collins does not pass all the criteria for us, but he has the merit of looking at the text as a text : discourse analysis guides his study, and careful exegesis lies at the back; several misconceptions about the text are underlined and the defensers of several, often opposed views, on Genesis, are faced with the real questions : how can we escape the impression of chronology in the first chapter, or the impression of a geographic location of the garden in the second ? (for instance).
Theological perspective and "reverberations" are also carefully examined, which make this book a very useful tool for the preacher o teacher on Genesis, or even on systematic theology; I significantly used it for both !
We don't agree with everything, but recommand this book as the best we have read on the question. Note that we don't recommand it as an outstanding reference on the faith/science debate, and it is not intended for this purpose. But it would clearly help with the biblical perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
At last, an evangelical commentary on the controversial first four chapters of Genesis written by an author who is both an acknowledged Hebrew scholar and a trained scientist. Collins avoids the simplistic errors of some evangelical authors who cannot deal with the literary features of the Hebrew text and/or who cannot or will not accept scientific facts (e.g., the antiquity of the earth). Yet he writes as a conservative evangelical who accepts the Bible as the Word of God. The book begins with several chapters on how to read Hebrew narrative before getting into a chapter-by-chapter commentary on Genesis 1-4. Many good insights and applications. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
John Collins has offered an intelligent commentary on Genesis which takes us another step in the right direction toward understanding the literary conventions of Hebrew storytelling.

I am an Evangelical Protestant Christian, so I come to a book like this with some presuppositions about the inspiration of Scripture. Traditionally, our perspective has focused on the words - or "verbal" inspiration. While I remain convinced the whole Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - is uniquely inspired by God, it seems our focus on "verbal" inspiration has created a blind spot; we seem to miss the literary forest for the lexicographical trees.

This commentary is very helpful in this respect. Collins does not dispense with nor disregard the traditional views, but believes they need to cooperate with the Hebrew literary conventions of the time when Genesis was written. He remains true to the traditional view of Mosaic authorship, but cautions us to understand the concept of "authorship" in a broader sense, for which he shows evidence even within later Scripture. He interacts with the "documentary hypothesis" (the idea that Genesis was "stitched" together from disparate sources) and shows convincingly (and helpfully from an Evangelical perspective) that regardless of the provenance of the stories, what we have before us is a highly unified, artistically stylized text. He argues we should be less concerned with what can only be a speculative enterprise (the form of the putative "original" sources) and more interested in the literary art of the whole.

The two things I did not like about the book (and thus 4 stars and not 5) were:

1) As a reader of commentaries, I expect a certain structure to them. This one is a bit disjointed as far as those prior expectations are concerned.

2) I found the exposition of the creation narratives a bit tedious. I think too much effort was expended in attempting to reconcile the literature with the chronological presuppositions many among us as Evangelicals hold. It is not for the divinely inspired literature of the Bible to be conformed to our presuppositions and exceptions; it for us to reform our presuppositions and expectation in the light of what we learn about the divinely inspired literature. Collins comes very close to helping us reform those expectations, but seems to want to hold on to chronological presuppositions which may require our reconsideration.

I am convinced that while on the one hand a student could study the Hebrew Bible as a literary artifact to learn of the conventions of its literature without believing in the God of the Bible, a student who already believes and reads so he can know God better cannot succeed in that effort without first understanding those literary conventions. Collins has helped immensely in this respect.

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on January 18, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
C. John Collins provides one of the best ever looks into the linguistic, cultural, structural, thematic, and historical studies of our time. I've read many books on creation, and this one stands out above the rest. This is a scholarly work, but written for the layman to understand, and is not a hard read at all. Every student should read this book, along with John Walton, and the book, "Beyond Creation Science" for much clearer idea of what we are dealing with in the book of Genesis. Terrific job.
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