Monday, September 28, 2015

Exodus 3 (Narrative Lectionary for Oct 4, 2015)

I offer this commentary, focusing on Exodus 3:10-15, for two separate Narrative Lectionary passages:
Sept 29. 2013: Exodus 3:10-15; 4:10-17
Oct 4, 2015:  Exodus 1: 8-14 and 3:1-15

Summary:  The Hebrew reminds us that as Moses asks for God's name, Moses is really asking for God's character.  The answer given seems very much like a New Testament answer:  A radically free God, who binds himself to the life of particular humans (incarnation!!), and out of his great mercy he sends the people to do his work (mission!).  Also, in Moses' protests we find a very common human disease:  a lack of self-esteem, ultimately grounded in a lack of trusting God.  The solution?  Pep talks??  No!!  It is all about God.

Side comment:  I think our kids don't need more self-esteem, but trust in God, which is more durable and more easily built back up.

אות ("sign"; Exodus 3.12; 4:17).  Obviously the idea of signs and covenants is a crucial one in the Old (and new) Testaments.  Interestingly, these signs God offer (worship on a mountain; Aaron's rod) are signs that will require Moses to take the first step in order to see.  I think it also reflects the human desire for a sign.  The people of Israel, including Moses, have seen great suffering.  Of course they want a sign!

עוד ("serve"; Exodus 3.12)  The word for serve has a range of meanings from "worship" to even be "slave to."  This sets up the key question for Exodus:  Whom will the people serve/worship/be in slave to:  God or Pharaoh?  This is a key hermeneutic for the story of Exodus:  Whom will the people serve?

As Americans today, this word challenges our notions of "freedom"  and faith.  Will we serve (meaning trust, worship and obey) God or will we serve Pharaoh?  By Pharaoh I do not meant the ancient king of Egypt, but the "man"?  (Old Testament professor Walter Bruggemann provocatively discusses this, arguing that Pharaoh is the military industrial complex).  Furthermore, when it comes to faith, are we really willing to "serve" God as we would a king? 

Lastly, our racial history makes any "positive" discussion of slavery in the context of faith extremely difficult.  For this reason, I believe the translators prefer to translate this word as "worship" God; however, the concept should not be lost.  There is no freedom in the abstract -- it is serve either God or Pharaoh.  Which brings up the question -- where is true freedom found?

שלח  ("send", 3.10, 12, 13, 14)  A crucial word in this passage; the word means send.  The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.  Just as Jesus was sending disciples, God in the Old Testament was sending workers and laborers into this word.  The whole idea of sending (and equipping) is also an OT concept!

םה-שםו ("what is your name?"; 3:13)
This is not the usual way to ask someone their name.
From TWOT:  "This frequently-occurring interrogative pronoun is most significant when associated with the word 'name'.  'What is your name?' is not a question which inquires after a person's family or personal name; it endeavors to find what character or quality lies within or behind the person. To ask for simple identification, one would say in Hebrew, "Who (mî) are you?"

In short, the question gets at this question:  What kind of God are you??  Again, this goes back to the suffering of the people.  Why would the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob let this happen to the people!  Unlike the Biblical histories, which suggest the Babylonian captivity is a result of apostasy, the Bible portrays the enslavement of the Israelites as caused by the fear, greed and hatred of the Egyptians.

אהיה ("I will be"; 3.14) God's name here is often translated, "I am who I am."  Because the verb is in the imperfect (incomplete) tense, it may also be translated, "I am who I will be" or "I will be who I will be"; any permutations of these two!  The crucial idea is that God is radically free!

אבתיכם ("fathers"; 3.15)  This radically free God includes in his introduction, really in his name and reputation, his relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  While God may be radically free, God is also radically bound to the particular life and story of various individuals.  If the preaching passage includes

והוריתיך ("teach"; 4.12)  This word is fascinating in two ways here.  First, because the root word is the same root as "torah."  Moses will be "torahed" in a sense.  Secondly, the verb in its root form (as opposed to hiphil, as it appear here) means to throw, like throw an arrow.  As fundamental as bow and arrow were to early Israelists, so was the teaching of God's Word.  Something about using this word Torah, deriving it from shooting and teaching...I love it!

Mark 10:2-16 (RCL for Oct 4, 2015)

Summary:  This is a very difficult passage, causing shame for many and perhaps even smugness for some.  Many commentaries have been written about it.  I'd like to focus on a few Greek words, especially some "απο" words, that might provide a framework for considering divorce and preaching about it.  Again, very tough because everyone has such different baggage on this topic.
Side comment:  Another helping tool for looking at these passages is to compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 and Luke 16 (if not 1 Cor 7).

πειραζοντες ("test or tempt", from πειραζω, 10:2)  We see this come up often in the Gospels, where the Pharisees (or some other group) are trying to test Jesus.  This case is a bit different.  John the Baptist was imprisoned because he spoke out against the marriage practices of Herod.  The Pharisees questions are intended to have Jesus imprisoned, if not killed.  Our society has great culture wars going on now about marriage; perhaps each one of us will face persecution for our views.  Lastly, if we wonder why Jesus is so harsh in his words, it is because the Pharisees are inviting him to his death.

αποστατιον ("divorce", 10:4)  This word "explodes" off the page if you look at it in the Bible or in the Greek language.  First, in Greek, this word meant leave one's station ("απο" means away; just read the letters in the word: a-p-o-s-t-a-t-i-o-n!).  It meant a military defection from your captain, the one ahead of you in rank.  Moses gave permission to write a certificate of defection!!  What if we started calling divorce defection??  Ouch.

Jesus actually changes the law here.  If you look up the word, you are taken to Deuteronomy 24:1, where a man is given permission to kick out his wife if she doesn't please him.  Jesus today is calling men to a greater level of faithfulness than previous generations ever did; men cannot simply leave their wives because they don't please them!  Jesus also even admits the reality that women might leave their husbands on their own accord, something unthinkable.  In this way, Jesus alters the law (a radical concept), even enfranchising women, but finally asks for greater commitment.  (Note however, that even though the Bible's teaching divorce shifts over time, the teaching on marriage remains the same).

απολυω ("free"; 10:4)  This word can mean "release" or even finally "divorce" but it is worth looking simply at what the word means:  to set free.  As a pastor, I have seen this, where divorce is a freeing of someone from an abusive and unfaithful relationship plagued by addiction and anger. 

So here is the million dollar question:  When is the divorce "αποστατιον", namely, a defection?  And when is it a απολυω, a freeing?

σκηλροκαρδια ("hardness of hearts"; 10:5)  The word here contains the root "σκηλρος" which means hardness -- an awful disease is "multiple sclerosis", the hardening of certain body parts until finally the person cannot move.  In a downward spiraling relationship, there is a hardening of the heart, until finally the person cannot love.  As Christians, we believe that God creates new hearts (Psalm 51); however, Jesus admits (see also Matt 19) that certain conditions, like adultery, create such a hard heart, that the two are permitted not to be yolked any more.  I would add abuse and addiction, both forms of adultery, you could argue, to this list of permissible divorces.

αρχη ("beginning"; 10:6)  Jesus affirms that marriage is a long-long, committed relationship between a man and a woman, grounded in creation and the particular creation accounts we have in the Bible.  This means that marriage has a few purposes:  to offer companionship, to create new families and bring a couple into full intimacy, even union.  I think one could further argue that marriage is a tool of God's sanctification in us, in that we discover our sinfulness very clearly, need forgiveness and become of great use to God through the love given to us by our spouse.  Jesus returns the focus to God's goodness and intentions for marriage.

My haunch:  The Christian church needs to spend a great deal of time and teaching on what marriage truly is and what it is for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Genesis 32:22-30 (NL for Sept 27, 2015)

Summary:  This passage is rich with names and their meanings.  But don't get distracted by all of this.  The main action is not in the words, but in the dirt!  God is getting down and dirty with Jacob, wrestling away.  God will stop at nothing to transform us [insert segue to cross], so that, quoting Luther, "I might be his own!"

Key words:
בד (pronounced "bad", meaning "alone", 32:24)  Jacob's being alone harkens back to the first case of man being alone in the Bible, namely the Garden of Eden (2:18).  A few contrasts and connections:
- Cause of loneliness:  Adam did not have a partner yet; Jacob has alienated his loved ones (his brother; his uncle)
- God meets dust:  In Genesis 2, God creates out of the dust; in Genesis 32, God "gets dusty" (see below)
- God blesses through creation:  In the Garden, God creates a woman; in Genesis 32, God creates a humble Jacob, ready to love, forgive, be forgiven.

אבק ("abaq", meaning to wrestle; literally dust, 32:24)  It is worth pointing out that the word for wrestle is related to the word for dust (they are the same spelling and root.)  To wrestle is literally to get dusty.  God gets down and dirty with Jacob to transform him.

יעקב ("Yakov" or "Jacob", 32:27)  The name Jacob means "he cheats" or "he steals."  I've read before that names had power in the ancient word; knowing the name gave one authority over another.  I still think this is true when I teach children.  Once I know there names, I can much more easily manage their behavior!  The point is that Jacob's revelation of his name was giving God power over him; but it also reveals humility because Jacob's name was a confession of sin.

שרית  (conjugated form of  שרה, "Sarah", meaning "strive", 32:28)  This is fascinating.  The root word of "Israel" (ישראל) is "Sarah" (שרה), which means strive/struggle.  Of all the patriarchs and people in the Bible, Israel has the name Sarah in it!!  As a side note, the full meaning of the word is hard to ascertain because it is not used that often in the Bible.  Sarah certainly embodies the striving and struggling as much as anyone in the OT.

As a curious side note, the first example of the name is "Israel" in recorded history is from 1200 BC Egypt:

יכל ("yacal", meaning "able", 32:28)  This is fascinating verb because it simply means "can" and "is able."  I think the translation of "prevail" is far too strong.  I think endure is much better translation.  I think it is worth pointing out that the only victory over God in life (again, I just "endure" as a better verb) is through submitting to God.

פניאל ("Peniel" meaning "face of God", 32:30)  What I would like to point out here is that most English translations leave this as Peniel.  The Greek (LXX) leaves it as "the place he saw God."  This brings up a great question about Old Testament translation -- when do we translate the meaning of names and places and when do we leave them as is?  (Do we expect people to read footnotes!)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mark 9:38-50 (RCL for Sept 27, 2015)

Summary:  Jesus warns his followers about "gheenna," often translated Hell.  This week we will look at the three words for Hell in the Bible.  The terms and their interpretation reflect various schools of thought over time.  No matter how you slice it, there is death and judgment.  I have rarely encountered a topic where I have had as much trouble wrapping my hands around it.  This blog summary does not achieve "Summa", but rather gives one a general map of the territory.

Christians translate three Greek words as "Hell."

αδης ("hades")  The first word for Hell is hades (Hebrew: Sheol).  Interestingly, only the King James translates this word as Hell; most leave it as Sheol or Hades.  It normally refers to the house of souls after death, rather than a place of judgment.  Let's be clear, it is not a place you or I want to be, but it is not the home of Satan with fiery demons.

Basically, there are two helpful ways to understand Hades/Sheol.  The first is that is a warehouse of souls (a la purgatory).  So for example:

Psalm 138:8:  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

The problem with this understanding is that you get a universal soul sleep, without judgment or resurrection. 

The other way to understand Hades/Sheol is simply as "the grave." So for example:
Genesis 37:35 "All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort Jacob; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father bewailed him."
Jonah 2:2 "I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice."

In this sense, Hades/Sheol may have nothing to do with souls, simply the place where the body exists after death.  The theologian is then free to discuss the judgement and resurrection of souls.  This solution creates another dilemma though, in that you have separated bodies and souls, something rather foreign to the Hebrew mind. 

So, Hades in the OT remains problematic!  It is clear that the Old Testament ideas about the afterlife changed over time.  There never emerged in the Old Testament, however, the idea that Hades/Sheol was a place solely of fiery judgment, the location of sinners after death.  Everyone went to Sheol.  It wasn't until much later (Isaiah 25-27) that you get the idea that God will defeat death and raise the righteous up to life.

The New Testament turns Hades into a darker place, with a bit more judgment associated with it.  For example: 
Luke 16:23: "In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
In Matthew, Jesus even declares the gates of Hades to be the enemy of the church! (16:18)
Finally, in Revelation, Hades will be consumed, and it will give over the dead for judgment.

To summarize:  Hades refers to the place the dead go to await judgment.  Besides one brief mention in Luke, it is not a place of judgment, much less fiery judgment.  It is not seen as the home of devils and demons.  The Bible leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be a two tiered place, of pain but also bliss, awaiting resurrection; the Bible also leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be understood literally and metaphorically as the grave, without much connotation of the soul's current or final destiny.  Either one presents a systematics challenge.

γεεννα  ("gheenna").  Unlike Hades, gheenna refers to a specific place, in fact, it is a place where a lot of bad stuff happened in Israel's history.
"Gehenna (Greek γέεννα) derives from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.  In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6)."
In depth look at citations of gheenna in the Bible, you can read here:

So, gheenna does refer to a hell-like place of judgment.  It may have even been a burning trash heap! 
An important take away about the OT citations of hell:  It was not the place of individual judgment, but of national judgement.

The New Testament continues this idea of judgment, but makes it a place for individual judgment as well.  This includes the passages for this week (Mark 9:44-50) but also:
Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Matthew 23:33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?

While Revelation does not use the word gheenna, after Hades has been consumed, there is still a lake of fire to consume those not in the book of life, including the devil.   Even John speaks of fire consuming the branches that bear no fruit!  I think it is fair to say that association of fire and judgment is Biblical.  However, a place where people roast alive slowly under the tridents of demons does not fully comport with the Biblical evidence.

To summarize:  The Bible includes real judgment here, including the idea that fires of judgment occur.  Yet, this is not the place where the devil and demons live.  (If anything, it is where demons go to die, not to live!)  Gheenna describes a tomb in the midst of eternal fires.  Lastly, this place of judgment becomes more personal in the NT than in the OT.

κατώτατα ("lowest places")  This word does not appear directly in the NT, but does so in our Creed (based on Ephesians 4:9, which uses a form of this word).  It does, however, occur in the OT:
Psalm 139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 86:13  For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Lamentations 3:56  I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit;

So, what is better?  Descended to the dead or to hell?  First Peter references (1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:16-20) suggest "dead," or place of the dead.  I prefer hell because the word in the creed means "lowest of low."  By using "hell" we capture the emotional suffering of Christ Jesus, in that he had been emotionally to hell, namely, feeling abandoned by God.

All in all, a complicated topic.  The "hell" of popular imagination is not based on one image or word from the Bible, but a compilation, an imaginative blending of these various Scriptural passages.  The Bible does not speak of a fiery pit with devils tormenting individuals.  However, the Bible speaks of final judgment, including destruction by fire.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Genesis 18:1-15 (NL for Sept 20, 2015)

Summary:  Right after the beautiful image of Adam and Eve in the garden, we get a glimpse of real families and the problems:  infertility, if not infidelity and all sorts of sibling rivalries.  What is at stake?  Can God be a faithful God over and against human sin and weakness?  The answer here is clearly "yes."

איש ("ish", meaning "man", 18:2)  The word here does not mean angels, dieties or anything else divine.  It simply means man.  Which raises all sorts of interesting questions.  First, do the three men represent the Trinity?  This seems unlikely.  Why?  First, the two men separate themselves from the "LORD" (18:22).  This seems a strange behavior for the Trinity, supposedly united in an eternal dance of love.  Second, the two men are referred to as "messengers" (or angels in 19:1).  Even the New Testament refers to them as angels (Hebrews 13:2).  It seems strange to refer to the second and third person of the trinity as messengers/angels!

Side note on ancient languages:  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for messenger (αγγελος or
מלאכים) is the same as the word for angel (think ev-angelical means good -message!).

Second, can God take a human form without the incarnation?  This seems really intriguing.  Was God merely appearing as a human...or was God actually taking human form...or is God always in human form?  Well, for starters, food was consumed (18:8).  Real food!  Real stomachs!  This was not just a ghost, but a living human being.  It seems possible that God could, in fact, take a human form...but this makes a strange case for the significant of Christmas.  The significance of Christmas is not that God became human but HOW God became human, namely as a virtual refugee born among animals and proclaimed to shepherds.

צחק ("saqaq", meaning "laugh", 18:12)  Simply play on words:  Sarah "laughs" (saqaq) and will name her child "he laughs" (Yitzhak, or anglicized, "Isaac")

היפלא ("hi-iphaleh" two words, meaning "if wonderful", 18:14)  Some translations take this in a negative way, "Is anything too difficult or too hard."  The root here is one of wonderful and miracle -- is anything too amazing, too miraculous for God.

TWOT offers a great insight into this word (really root word) about the fact that the miracle is not as important as the revealed fact that God is for (or against) us.

"Preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to the acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel. that is, in the Bible the root pl° refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (pl°) in man. Thus, the "real importance of the miraculous for faith (is) -not in its material factuality, but in its evidential character... it is not, generally speaking, the especially abnormal character of the event which makes it a miracle; what strikes men forcibly is a clear impression of God's care or retribution within it" (Eichrodt). We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God's care or retribution."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mark 9:30-37 (RCL for Sept 20, 2015)

Summary:  "Serving others" sounds like an exciting idea in high school - volunteering is hip these days.  But serving others is actually quite difficult.  Jesus even ups the ante by commanding that we should be servant to all!  The hope I find in this week's passage is that Jesus follows this command to serve everyone by touching one particular person.  A reminder that service to world means service to individuals, often the very individuals the world forgets.

Key Words:
διακονος:  ("servant", 9:35)  The meaning of this word has come under great fire in the last generation.  In post-Vatican II Catholicism and post-Holocaust protestantism, there reemerged a strong desire and need for the church to serve the needy. (Not that this had ever gone away totally!)  What emerged was an incredible surge in the interest of service under various forms, offices and theology related to "διακονος."  A generation or two later, some, including the previous Pope, are concerned that we have replaced the ministry of the Word with charity.  If you research "Collins diakonia" you can read all about it.  Within the Lutheran context a rather pointed and academic article is here:

The word does have a variety of meanings, from "waiter" as in someone who waits on tables, but also someone who acts as an agent on behalf of someone.  In Mark's Gospel the word describes angels and women who attend to Jesus.  In this way, Mark's usasge attests to the idea of service to the needy, but the service always involves Jesus.

Without being overly argumentative, you can assert this: διακονος did not simply mean service to the poor but also service on behalf of Christ.  This week's passage shows a beautiful example of what διακονος entails:  bringing the least in society to the arms of Jesus.

παιδιον ("child", 9:36, 37)  The word here can mean "kid" but can also mean "child" (as in my kid) or "slave."  In our culture, we have seen this passage almost exclusively in light of the idea of "my child," a precious offspring of someone.  However, the social context of youth ought not to be lost -- children did not have great social status and were not the focus of parental energy.  In this sense, Jesus is acting toward the "least", namely, the people without voice, vote, income or status.

εναγκαλισμενος ("hug", 9:36 and 10:16)  This word is only used twice in the whole New Testament, both times in Mark!, when Jesus takes children into his arm.  This is also a reminder of what it means to welcome someone in the name of Christ, to bring them close enough that you can see their beauty, but also their warts, stinky breath and dirty fingernails.

Grammar:  "αν"
This word is nearly impossible to translate.  It sort of means "if" but not really.  It is best just to learn all the ways in which it is used (ie, consult a grammar aid when you come to it).  In verse 37, it is used with ος, which always gets translated "Whoever."  This might not make sense, but this combination is a bit like:  "Who, who?,..." to make a "whoever."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Genesis 2:4b-25 (Narrative Lectionary for Sept 13, 2015)

Summary:  This passage shows God, humanity and the earth in beautiful concert.  A true paradise.  There are so many ways to go with this passage, especially ways that fit in with various political agendas.  I think the big point is less public policy (or even church polity policy) and the intentions of God for the world:  God, humanity and earth in concert, working together in joy.

Quick note:  I've read so many commentaries and heard so many lectures and sermons on Genesis 2 that I can hardly claim any of the following as exclusively mine. In some ways I am not offering a detailed commentary because I suspect that many of you have also heard bits and pieces.  Hopefully my comments jog some memories or spur some more questions on your part.

עבד ("avad", meaning "serve/be slave/worship", 2:5)  The translation of this verb as "work" as in "no one to work the land" is really mild. The word עבד also means to slave or worship.  The original purpose of humanity was much closer to the earth than the sky...

אדמה ("adamah", meaning "soil/ground", 2:7)  The word for "man" in Hebrew is אדמ or "Adam" which comes from/is related to אדמה "adamah" the word for ground.  (Kind of like "human" comes from "humus", no not the chip dip, but part of the soil that is rich in nutrients).  This creation story reminds us of our connection to the earth.

נפש ("nephish" meaning "soul or living being", 2:7) The word for soul in Hebrew does not mean an the ethereal part of us that becomes a ghost when we die.  The word for soul in Hebrew is linguistically related to the verb for breath; but more to the point, the human is not a living thing until it has breath.  Interestingly, the verb for "in-breath" has God as its subject twice.  First here and then in John's Gospel when Jesus, after the resurrection ενεφυσησεν into the disciples. 

יצר ("yatzir" meaning "form" as in "form pottery" or "form a plan", 2:7/2:8)  I really love that this image here is for pottery.  God makes us like a potter makes a clay vessel.  This metaphor is picked up in Jeremiah 18:6 and also  Isaiah 43:1:
"But now thus says the LORD, he who created ברא you, O Jacob, he who formed יצר you  O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
This verse in Isaiah is fascinating because it ties together the words for creation from the first and second creation stories.  Also it is really cool because it shows that ultimately what matters is not Adam's act of naming the animals, but God's act of naming us as children.

כוש (Cush, 2:13)  The point of the Hebrew usage of Cush is to say "the furthest south you've ever heard of"; ie,. the garden of Eden essentially covers all of the known civilized world.

לא-טוב ("lo-tov" meaning "no good", 2:18)  The first bad thing in the bible is not human rebellion but human loneliness.  Genesis 1 keeps saying things are declared good by God.  Now we have a hiccup!  Important point:  The human is created to be in relationship with the earth and with each other.

עזר כנגדו ("ezer - canagado", meaning "helper to him", 2.18. 2:20)  What is the purpose of a spouse; it is to be a helper.  But this is a tricky phrase to translate, because it is not one word or term, but really three of four.  Basically it is the word "help" (somewhat straight forward) with a slapped together term of pronouns and prepositions: "like/as - in front of / opposite - him"  This particular construction of words does not appear again.  So what can we make of this?  Spouses are meant to help each other.  I would argue they should be equal but also at some level opposite.  (yin-yang?)  But my sense is that we will always put more into this term than we will get out of it.

קרא ("qarah" meaning "name or call", 2:19)  Adam names the animals. Some want to claim this is co-creator power.  Others simply want to say God let Adam name the animals.  I'll stay out of this debate for now.

And for fun:  Genesis 2:4b starts with the phrase, in the Greek:
βιβλος γενεσεως
(an account/book of the creation)
Matthew 1 will also start with this.  John 1 is a play on Genesis 1; Matthew 2 is a play on Genesis 2 one could argue.

I've often used Genesis 2 as a marriage sermon text/pre-marriage counseling Bible study:
The purposes of marriage:  mutual helping, awe-filled companionship and new family streams
The promise of marriage:  husband and wife become one flesh
The cross of marriage:  husband and wife become one flesh know each intimately (are naked on all levels) yet still are not ashamed of the other person.  This last point leads powerfully into the reality of the cross in marriage, the reality that our sinfulness comes before us in marriage and our need for Christ and his forgiveness.