Review of From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation by Sidney Greidanus

August 8, 2020

Greidanus, Sidney. From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation. Short Studies in Biblical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018. pp. 213. $15.99. Paperback.

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Sidney Greidanus (ThD, Free University of Amsterdam) is a retired professor of Calvin College, the King’s College, and Calvin Theological Seminary. He retired from full-time teaching in 2004, and has since then been mainly writing commentaries for preachers. His recent book From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation is one volume in a series entitled Short Studies in Biblical Theology edited by Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt. The purpose of this series “is to connect the resurgence of biblical theology at the academic level with everyday believers” (p. 13). Each volume in the series is also written in a simple manner so that those who may not have had any theological training can easily interact with the text of the author.

Greidanus’s book traces the dual theme of chaos–cosmos from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 (p. 15). Greidanus’s purpose for the book is to deepen” one’s “understanding of the original creation and the coming new creation,” which “helps us see not only the unity of the Scriptures but also the centrality of Christ in the Scriptures” (p. 15). Greidanus accomplishes these goals by tracing the chaos–cosmos theme through seven Hebrew words in the Old Testament (“without form and void,” tōhû wābōhû; “darkness,” hōšek; “deep,” tehôm; “water,” māyim, “seas,” yāmmîm; and “sea creatures/monsters,” tannînim) and some corresponding and related Greek terms found in the Greek Pentateuch and the New Testament (aoratos, akataskeuastos, skotos, abyssou, hydatos, thalassas, and the phrase ta kētē ta megala). Greidanus’s book divides into our lengthy chapters, with groups of discussion questions interspersed throughout each chapter, and a short appendix.

He begins by taking his definitions of both “chaos” and “cosmos” from Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (p. 17), which define “chaos” as “the infinity of space or formless matter supposed to have preceded the existence of the ordered universe” (pp. 18–19) and “cosmos” as “the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system” (p. 19).

In Chapter 1, “The Chaos–Cosmos Theme in Genesis, Exodus, and Joshua,” he argues that the first six books of the Old Testament speak of these themes by accommodating “their imagery to the prevailing culture, whether Babylonian, Canaanite, or Egyptian” (p. 21). This chapter argues that “the overall theme from Genesis to Joshua is that God is sovereign over both cosmos and chaos” (p. 52); more specifically, the God who is sovereign over both cosmos and chaos creates and restores cosmos through chaos.

In Chapter 2, “The Chaos–Cosmos Theme in Wisdom, Psalms, and Prophets,” Greidanus builds his case by arguing that in the rest of the Old Testament “we find the same emphases as in Genesis and Exodus,” yet “we find also a greater specificity in personifying chaos” in the two characters of Leviathan and Rahab (p. 56), who both personify Israel’s enemies (pp. 72–73, 84–85).

Chapter 3, “The Chaos–Cosmos Theme in the New Testament,” argues that through the cross “orderly cosmos will be restored” (p. 140), Satan and his chaos will be defeated, and “God’s curse on this creation will be lifted,” restoring “his creation to the orderly, harmonious cosmos he intended it to be from the beginning” (p. 171).

In the final chapter, “Preaching or Teaching a Series on the Chaos–Cosmos Theme,” Greidanus turns specifically to preachers and teachers. This chapter provides seven sermon/teaching outlines that highlight key words and passages as the preacher or teacher traces the chaos–cosmos theme through Scripture.

The book ends with a short appendix for groups who might use the book in a Bible study.

Greidanus’s From Chaos to Cosmos is overall an insightful little volume that accomplishes the purpose for which it set out. The book makes some very surprising connections between biblical terms and figures that should fascinate readers and encourage them to dig a bit deeper into those topics. Also, the book is clearly and simply written; any person without formal theological training could pick this book up and benefit from Greidanus’s theological insights.

Readers should be aware, however, that Greidanus’s chapters are quite long (after all, there are only four of them). The reason for the length is the extensive use of lengthy biblical citations (this is purposeful; see p. 15). He also quotes secondary sources at length, which sometimes might leave the reader wanting to hear the author’s own voice rather than someone else’s.

In a more critical key, I have two comments. First, Greidanus inserts one-to-two pages of reflection questions multiple times throughout each chapter. Structuring the chapters in this fashion may distract readers from Greidanus’s flow of thought; perhaps it would have been more helpful for Greidanus to insert these all of these reflection questions at the end of each chapter. Or perhaps Greidanus could have divided his chapters into shorter chapters that contained these study questions at the end of each chapter.

Second, Greidanus often makes a theological link between a biblical concept and the chaos–cosmos theme (e.g., chaos and Rahab), yet sometimes, though not all the times, readers may desire a bit more explanation from the author demonstrating how he arrives at such conclusions. This might result in readers wondering whether or not Greidanus is forcing his theme onto specific passages that contain concepts loosely related to the chaos–cosmos theme. It does not help Greidanus’s case that he begins by defining “chaos” and “cosmos” from Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (p. 17) and imposing those definitions onto various themes found within Scripture; certainly these dictionary entries could line up with what Greidanus sees in Scripture, but such an approach seems methodologically and pedagogically counterintuitive to a typical biblical-theological hermeneutic.

As a final word, if students and laymen are seeking to understand what Scripture has to say about the theme of chaos and cosmos, and how God creates and restores the cosmos out of chaos, Greidanus’s little volume may prove to be a good place to start.

Colton Moore

Bethlehem College & Seminary

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