Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives

Baker Academic, 2008
ISBN: 9780801032332


Recently renewed debates concerning creation and evolution make contemporary Christians wonder how their forebears in the faith understood the Genesis creation narratives. Were the stories of the six days and of the garden read historically, or did they have some other function? This volume from Peter Bouteneff brings needed attention to early Christian understandings of those key biblical texts.

After introductory chapters on the narratives and their reception in early Judaism and in the New Testament (especially in Paul’s letters), Bouteneff focuses on the church fathers. He considers how the narratives of Genesis 1–3 were read as foundational, authoritative texts during the formative centuries when the Greek fathers were laying the framework of Christian theology. Chapters are devoted to writers of the second century (the apologists, from Justin to Irenaeus), the third century (mainly Origen but also the Latin writer Tertullian), and the fourth century (Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, and especially the three Cappadocian fathers). Bouteneff finds that from Paul onward, the primary interest in Adam was as a prefiguration of Christ. The six days of creation bespeak God’s ordered creation of the world through Christ, and early Christian readings of Genesis reflect Christ-centered understandings of providence and time.

Bouteneff’s engaging and informative study makes the Greek fathers’ thought accessible to biblical interpreters and theologians as well as pastors, students, and all who are interested in the early church and its use of the Bible.

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Scripture citations link directly to English translations, and important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Key Features

  • Delves into early analysis of creation in the Bible
  • Discusses how the creation texts were received and read in Jewish culture
  • Explores the importance of the texts on the formation of early Christian theology


  • And There Was Morning: An Introduction
  • At the Birth of Christian Reflection: Paul and the New Testament
  • Recapitulation: The Second-Century Apologists
  • Senses of Scripture: The World of Origen and the Origin of the World
  • Paradise, Whatever That May Mean: The Cappadocians and Their Origen
  • These Are the Generations: Concluding Observations

Praise for the Print Edition

This wonderfully researched and elegantly written book provides the reader with a compelling and trustworthy portrait of how the fathers of the church read the story of Adam and Eve. As Bouteneff tells that story we see that the tale of the fall is always contextualized within a narrative that celebrates the restoration and redemption of the human race.

Gary Anderson, Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Notre Dame

I hope this remarkable study will be widely read and appreciated. From the start, the reader is obliged to grapple with questions about how a text is to be read when it can be demonstrated that layers of subsequent interpretation have had as much, if not more, influence than the text itself. And what more crucial text is there than Genesis 1–3, which has shaped Christian understanding of both creation and fall in ways that are now controversial, both within the churches and in the public domain? Though not always agreeing with the analyses presented here, I can guarantee that hardly anyone, whatever their starting point, will come away from this book without having found some new insight.

Frances M. Young, emeritus professor, University of Birmingham

The volume is very useful for theologians, for biblical scholars interested in the Wirkungsgeschichte of these texts, and for students. . . . The author can be congratulated for this good, serious, and thorough treatment of the topic.

Review of Biblical Literature

Bouteneff charts a fascinating history of a conversation that is still ongoing today. . . . Bouteneff’s sensitive presentation is attuned to subtleties in the way that each author’s interpretation reflects both his own theology and hermeneutical stance toward, e.g., allegorical reading. . . . Bouteneff’s careful efforts are well worth reading, and in the end provide something like a hermeneutical apologia for reading contentious biblical texts in the company of our patristic forebears.

Theological Book Review

Product Details

About Peter C. Bouteneff

Peter C. Bouteneff is associate professor of systematic theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. He is the author of Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth and coauthor of Beyond the East-West Divide: The WCC and “the Orthodox Problem.”


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