IN THE BEGINNING

GENESIS 1:1-2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1).

The word "genesis" is synonymous with beginnings. When we speak of the genesis of a thing, we are referring to its origins. The book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It relates a number of beginnings:

Genesis is foundational to the Bible. Every major theme within the Bible finds its origins in Genesis. Indeed, the rest of the Bible would be incomprehensible without the doctrinal foundation which is set down in this first book.

 

THE TITLE AND OUTLINE OF THE BOOK

1. The Hebrew Title.

The Old Testament, including Genesis, was originally written in Hebrews. The Hebrews commonly took the first line of a book and made that the title. Thus they called this book BeRishyth - "In the beginning."

2. The Greek Title.

Our title "Genesis" is taken from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the original Hebrew Bible Genesis it means "beginnings." That is a good title for this book. In the Septuagint, the phrase Biblos Genesis is found nine different times. Each time it is translated: "These are the generations of..."

The book of Genesis has its own internal outline which is based upon the repetition of this same phrase elleh toledoth ("these are the generations").

"THESE ARE THE GENERATIONS OF..."

Formula

Contents

Location

In the beginning God...

Creation

1:1 - 2:3

  • This is the account of the heaven and the earth

Creation

2:4 - 4:26

  • This is the written account of Adam's Line

Genealogy: Seth to Noah

5:1 - 6:8

  • This is the account of Noah

Flood & Covenant

6:9 - 9:29

  • This is the account of Shem, Ham & Japheth

Table of Nations & Babel

10:1 - 11:9

  • This is the account of Shem

Genealogy: Shem to Abraham

11:10-26

  • This is the account of Terah

Story of Abraham

11:27 - 25:11

  • This is the account of Abraham's son Ishmael

Genealogy of Ishmael

25:12-18

  • This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac

Transition of blessing from Isaac to Jacob

25:19 - 35:29

  • This is the account of Esau

Genealogy of Esau

36:1-43

  • This is the account of Jacob

Joseph & Israel in Egypt

37:1 - 50:26

Notice that there is a symmetrical pattern which finds Abraham at its center.

Adam

Abraham

Israel in Egypt

Genesis 2:4 - 11:26

Genesis 11:27 - 50:26

5 Toledoth from Adam to Abraham

5 Toledoth from Abraham to Israel

Thus, the person of Abraham stands at the center and as the pivotal point of the book of Genesis. He is the father of the nation through whom all of the world is to be blessed. He stands in contrast to Adam through whom all the world was cursed.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis form a prologue to the rest of the Pentateuch. This prologue is worded in cosmic terms, taking in all of mankind and all of the world.

GENESIS 1-11

GENESIS 12-50

Events predominant

  • Creation
  • The Fall into sin
  • The Flood
  • The Tower of Babel

Persons predominant

  • Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Joseph

The Race as a Whole

The Family of Abraham

Over 2000 years

250 years

The New Testament counterpart to Genesis is the book of Revelation. What is introduced in the book of Genesis finds its conclusion in Revelation.

Genesis

Revelation

Creation of the heavens and earth.

A new heaven and a new earth.

The Tree of Life in the Garden.

The Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem.

A river runs through the Garden.

A river runs through the New Jerusalem.

The first marriage: Adam and Eve.

The last marriage: The last Adam to the church.

The beginning of the career of Satan.

The end of Satan's career: The Lake of Fire.

Death enters.

Death is destroyed.

Man lost privileges because of sin.

Man regains privileges because of Christ's payment for sin.

Beginning of sorrow, pain and death.

Christ wipes away all tears.

The first murder.

No more death.

The beginning of Babylon.

Babylon destroyed.

Throughout Genesis we see God's blessings and provision for man and man's failure to appropriate that grace. Ironically, this is illustrated by comparing the first and last verses of the book.

Genesis begins with God

In the beginning God created...

Genesis ends with a corpse

...in a coffin in Egypt.

But this does not mean that Genesis is a book without hope, for even in recording the death and burial of Joseph in Egypt, there is a continuing promise of a redemption to come.

 

AN OVERVIEW OF THE CREATION ACCOUNT

1. The Similarity to the Babylonian Creation Account.

Scholars have made much of the fact that other creation accounts in other cultures that predate Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. Of particular interest is one such account known as the Enuma Elish found in Mesopotamia.

It was customary in the very earliest written history to name a book or a scroll after the first word or phrase found in body of the work. The Enuma Elish ("When on high") draws its title from the first sentence of its narrative.

"When on high the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been named..."

The text was found written on seven tablets, but this has no bearing on the seven days of the Genesis account. If the tablets had been larger then there would only have been six.

Tablet 1

The most primitive forces and gods come together as a result of the rage of the sea goddess Tiamat.

Tablet 2

Marduk, one of the second generation gods, is elected to fight Tiamat.

Tablet 3

The assembly of gods decrees the outcome of the battle and the glory of Marduk.

Tablet 4

They each create seven assistants to help them. Marduk wins the conflict and dissects the body of Tiamat.

Tablet 5

From the body of Tiamat, Marduk creates heaven and earth.

Tablet 6

Tiamat's second in command, Kingu, is slain and from drops of his blood Marduk creates man so that there will be one to sacrifice to the gods.

Tablet 7

Contains a list of magical names for Marduk.

It can be seen from this brief outline that this account is only superficially related to the Genesis account. Since the initial discovery of the seven tablets, other copies have been found relating the same story but on ten tablets.

There is a real difference between the Genesis account and the creation accounts of other pagan religions. In other ancient religious systems, the natural world was seen as a manifestation of all of the deities - the sun, moon, stars, oceans, storms. The cosmos always had the status of deity. The Bible is unique in that the cosmos is merely creation. Only God is GOD.

2. The Nature of the Two Creation Accounts.

A reading of Genesis 1-2 will show immediately that we have two separate and distinct accounts of creation that can be compared and contrasted.

GENESIS 1

GENESIS 2

The heavens and the earth are created in six days.

Creation of the man and the woman (no time element mentioned).

Shows man in his cosmic setting.

Shows man as central to God's purpose.

A panoramic view of creation as a whole.

A detailed view of one particular aspect of creation.

Centers on God creating the heavens and the earth.

Centers on man as the crowning of God's creation.

Rather than being contradictive, these two accounts are complimentary. Indeed, this method of first giving a panoramic view and then coming back to focus on important details is found all through Genesis.

For example, in the account of Jacob and Esau, Esau's story comes first, but it is Jacob's which is more fully developed and which holds the place of higher importance to the theme of the book.

IN THE BEGINNING

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1).

Perhaps one of the most sublime sermons on creation ever preached was not from a pulpit, but from the Apollo 8 spacecraft as it orbited the moon. It was Christmas Eve, 1968, when astronaut Frank Borman, a lay-reader for the congregation at St. Christopher's Episcopal church in Houston, appeared live on television from lunar orbit. Pointing the camera out the window so that the entire world could see the bleakly grey and dead moon passing quickly underneath the spacecraft, he said, "And now the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...." With that, he and the other two Apollo astronauts proceeded to read the Genesis 1 account.

1. The When of Creation: In the beginning... (1:1).

We are not told when this took place with reference to our own modern system of dating. I understand that some old Bible have placed a date in the margin as to when this was computed to have taken place. But the simple fact is that the Bible is silent concerning the exact date. What it DOES tell us is that the creation took place in the beginning.

That is significant. It means that the creation of which we read was a true creation. If this was what took place at the beginning, then it indicates that the universe is not infinitely old. Whether you want to stipulate that this creation took place thousands of years ago or billions of years ago, the truth remains that there was a time when nothing existed and then something came into being.

But what about BEFORE the beginning? This verse gives the answer. "In the beginning GOD..." God did not come into existence at creation. Rather He was already in existence at creation.

2. The Who of Creation: In the beginning God...(1:1).

The Hebrew word for "God" is Elohim. The interesting thing about the word Elohim is that it is plural.

Some have suggested that this is an indication of the trinity, but it is more likely a device known as a plural of immensity, used to describe God in terms of His greatness. Although Elohim is a plural noun, it is accompanied by a singular verb while "God" is plural, "created" is singular. This verse teaches us several things about God.

a. It teaches of the existence of God.

God is. He exists. The writer of Genesis does not argue this point. It is not open for debate. He does not begin his book with 5 points of proving the existence of God. The very fact that ANYTHING is here is evidence that God exists.

b. It teaches of the existence of One God.

As we read this chapter, we should remember that it was written to an original audience and with a very specific purpose. The writer was Moses. He was writing to the Israelites in the wilderness. They have lived all of their lives as slaves in Egypt. And in Egypt they had been exposed to the pagan pantheon of Egypt. They had heard the Egyptian creation myths which described the heavens and earth being the domain of all of the false gods of Egypt.

This chapter is written to correct the worldly thinking to which the Israelites had been exposed. It sets out to show that the world is not a random accident caused by the capricious acts of pagan deities, but was created by a single and wise and intelligent and loving God.

c. It teaches of the pre-existence of God.

God not only existed at the creation - He PRE-EXISTED at the creation. He was not the recipient of creation - He was the SOURCE of creation. And that presupposes that he already existed prior to the creation. The New Testament makes this very clear.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2).

This passage also takes us back to the creation. But there is a difference. Here the emphasis here is not upon God CREATING, but rather upon His BEING. Here we read that in the beginning, something already WAS. When you go back in time as far as you can possible imagine, before anything else ever exists, God WAS.

John 1:1 does NOT say that "in the beginning the Word came into being." Instead, it tells us that at the time of the beginning, the Word ALREADY WAS. The Word pre-existed. This is seen in the three statements of John 1:1.

m The Word pre-existed.

m The Word pre-existed with God.

m The Word pre-existed as God.

d. It teaches us of the person of God.

God is not some mystical impersonal force. That makes good science fiction in a movie like "Star Wars" but it is terrible theology. God is personal. He thinks, He feels and He acts.

3. The Work of Creation: In the beginning God created... (1:1).

How are we to understand the work of creation as described in verse 1 as it relates to the rest of the chapter? There are two possibilities:

It is perhaps noteworthy that four different Hebrew words are used within these two chapters to describes God's creative activity.

(1) Bara, "to create."

Genesis 1:1 describes God creating the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:21 uses the same word to describe God creating the sea creatures and the birds. Genesis 1:27 relates the creation of man and woman.

We must not make this word say TOO much, for in other places it is used of a woman giving birth. At the same time, there does seem to be a careful distinction between the word and the others that are used in this chapter to describe God's creative works.

(2) Asah, "to make."

This word is used to describe God's creation of...

(3) Yatser, "to form."

Used in Genesis 2:7-8 to describe the forming and the molding of man's body. However, we should not read too much of a distinction into this because Zechariah 12:1 uses this same word to describe God forming man's spirit.

(4) (Banah), "To build."

Used in Genesis 2:22 to describe the making of the woman from the rib of the man.

4. The "What" of Creation: ...God created the heavens and the earth (1:1).

The phrase "heavens and earth" is all-inclusive. It takes in everything. The word "heavens" is from the Hebrew word shamayim. It is taken from the root word , "over there." It is literally the "place up there." This is very simple language. It simply says that God created "the down here and the up there."

This is important. As we read the Genesis account of creation, we will note that the focus is from an earthly perspective. It is written from the point of view of one who is standing upon planet earth. Instead of reading about orbits and rotating planets, we shall read of sunrise and sunset and seasons and years.

This brings out a principle. The Bible is written for the inhabitants of planet earth. Only things which concerned them were placed into the Bible. The Bible is not a book about angels or demons or Satan. Though these things might be given passing reference, it is only as they interact with God's dealings toward men that they are mentioned.

Neither is the Bible a book about geology or biology or archaeology or astronomy. It is a book about God's grace to fallen man. This does not mean that we should consider the Bible to be inferior to any of man's sciences. The Bible is God's Word and the very mind of Christ. It is completely without error. Whenever it speaks on any subject, no matter how slight the reference, it is correct. Having said this, it must be pointed out that there are several theories regarding the interpretation of the Creation Narrative.

 

THEORIES OF CREATION

1. Supernatural versus Evolutionary.

The Supernaturalist says that creation occurred in a way that in completely foreign to anything that may be observed today. The creation account indicates that God has completed his creative work (Genesis 2:1-3).

On the other hand, there are Christians who believe that God may have acted through evolutionary means to bring about creation. It is true that God often works through what we think of as "natural processes." They are in reality His regular and faithful workings.

2. A superficial appearance of history.

The description that we have of God's creative work seems to imply creation with an appearance of age. This is vividly seen in the creation of man. On the day that Adam was created, how old was he? He was one day old! But the Scriptures seem to describe him as a full-grown man rather than as a baby. The implication is that he was created with an appearance of age.

The same is seen of animals and plant life. We do not read that God created seedlings, but rather that He created trees yielding fruit that had within them seeds for perpatuating further growth (Genesis 1:12).

When we were children, we used to discuss what came first, the chicken or the egg. The Biblical answer is that God created egg-laying chickens who looked and acted every bit like those who had been hatched and had grown to adulthood.

3. The Gap Theory.

This view places a great chronological gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 during which the earth was destroyed and then recreated. According to this theory, millions of years ago God created a perfect heaven and earth. This universe continued in a perfect state until Satan rebelled by desiring to become like God (Isaiah 14:12-17). Because of Satan's fall, sin entered the universe. As a result, the earth became "formless and void" until a global ice age swept over the earth as light and heat were removed. The six days which follow refer to the reconstruction of the earth.

Support for the Theory

Objections to the Theory

The verb hayeta in Genesis 1:2 can be translated "became" so that we could read that "the earth became without form and void."

The normal rendering of hayeta is "was" and indicates a state of being.

The words tohu wabohu ("formless and void") are said to refer to a destruction which took place after God's original creation. In Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11 these words describe a destruction.

The words tohu wabohu ("formless and void") need not describe destruction. They can just as easily describe an unconstructed state.

Isaiah 45:18 says that God did not create the earth void (tohu) while Genesis 1:2 says that the earth was now void. It is reasoned that the earth must have come to be in this manner after its original creation.

Isaiah 45:18 simply tells us that God's intention for the earth in its completed form was that it would not be tohu, but rather that it might be inhabited. The prophet is simply stating the purpose of creation.

The darkness which characterized the formless and void condition is indicative of evil.

Darkness does not always indicate evil. Both light and darkness existed upon the finished earth and it was still said to be good.

4. The Day/Age Theory.

This view says that the six days of creation are not to be taken as literal days but rather are symbolic for long periods of time.

Support for the Theory

Objections to the Theory

The word "day" is sometimes used in the Scriptures to describe a period of time longer than a 24 hour period ("the day of the Lord").

The word "day" does not normally refer to an extended period of time when it appears with a modifier (1st day, 2nd day, etc).

2 Peter 3:8 states that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years.

These days are clearly defined in Genesis 1:5 when God calls the light day and the darkness night.

The sun and the moon are not created until the 4th day. This indicates that the previous days are not literal.

The very purpose of the sun was to rule over the day while the moon was to rule over the night.

It should be noted that this view was held by theologians long before the advent of modern evolutionary theory. Origen, Augustine and Aquinas were among some of the early theologians who suggested that the days of Genesis were not necessarily limited to a 24 hour day.

5. The Non-Sequential Theory.

Says that the first two chapters of Genesis are not meant to teach us anything about the chronological order of creation and that we should only learn general lessons from these chapters.

The creation week is seen merely as a literary device, a framework in which a number of very important messages are held (See Ridderbos, "Is there a Conflict between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?"). Thus, the chronological sequence is merely to be regarded as the packaging in which the real message is wrapped.

6. The Literal Interpretation.

If we read the passage naturally, we seem to see a literal six-day period of creation since the entire idea of a "day" and a "night" is defined within the passage where "God called the light DAY..." For this reason, this has been the accepted interpretation from both Jewish and Christian scholars throughout most of history.

Most of the other interpretations of Genesis have as their motivating force the desire to bring the teachings of this chapter into line with popular geological and evolutionary theory. This is not a bad thing if those modern theories can be demonstrated to be correct. We have done similar works of interpretation when we take archaeological discoveries into account and use them to help us to understand and to interpret the Scriptures.

For example, when Isaiah 11:12 speaks of the Lord gathering His people "from the four corners of the earth," we utilize our understanding of geography to interpret this as a figure of speech rather that to insist that planet earth has literal corners.

 

FORMLESS AND VOID

And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:2).

We have already mentioned an interpretation known as the "Gap Theory." This position postulates a gap between verse 1 and verse 2. It says: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but then the earth BECAME formless and void." In such a view, this verse as seen, not as a creative act, but as a DESTRUCTIVE act, possibly brought about through Satan's fall.

The problem with the Gap Theory is that the Bible does not teach it. There is nothing in these first two verses of Genesis that would lead us to believe that we are to understand a gap between the creation and the condition of the earth as it is described in verse 2. Satan is not mentioned here and there is nothing to indicate that the earth had been rendered into something it had not originally been.

We are told three things about the condition of the original earth:

1. Formless and Void.

The Hebrew words tohu wabohu ("formless and void") are used together two other times in the Old Testament (Isaiah 34:11; Jeremiah 4:23). These are the only times that bohu is used in the Bible. The words seem to form a unit a bit like our expression, "topsy-turvy."

2. Darkness over the Surface of the Deep.

The "deep" refers to an abyss of water. This same word is used in Exodus 15:5 to describe the Red Sea as it swept over the armies of pharaoh. It will not be until the third day that we shall see dry land appear.

3. The Spirit of God was moving over the Surface of the Waters.

The word which describes this "moving" of the Spirit of God is found in Deuteronomy 32:11 where it describes a bird brooding over her young. The picture here is of the Holy Spirit working over the earth and preparing it to bring forth life.

 

LESSONS FROM GENESIS 1:1-2

There is only one God and that is the God who created us. No matter what we may hear or read in the newspapers, we did not create God. That means that He is the God of every man, even if every man does not recognize Him as such.

The God who created us is a pretty big God. All you have to do is to look up into the sky to see a glimpse of how big is God. The more powerful telescopes that scientists are able to make, the more galaxies we are able to see. There are millions upon millions. And behind it all is our God.

God is personally involved in His creation. We see this especially in the picture of His Spirit hovering over planet earth as a mother eagle hovers over her young. With all of the enormous galaxies and star systems, God is concerned with this one little blue planet and what happens on it.

The purpose of the Geneisis account is not merely to have us view the creation, but that we might see the Creator who created the creation. Dr. B. B. Warfield states it this way:

A glass window stands before us. We raise our eyes and see the glass; we note its quality, and observe its defects; we speculate on its composition. Or we look straight through it on the great prospect of land and sea and sky beyond. So there are two ways of looking at the world. We may see the world and absorb ourselves in the wonders of nature. That is the scientific way. Or we may look right through the world and see God behind it. That is the religious way.

The scientific way of looking at the world is not wrong any more than the glass-manufacturer's way of looking at the window. This way of looking at things has its very important uses. Nevertheless the window was placed there not to be looked at but to be looked through; and the world has failed of its purpose unless it too is looked through and the eye rests not on it but on its God. Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. I, edited by John E. Meeker (Nutley, N.J. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), pg 108).

Genesis was not written for the glass maker it was written that we might look through the glass of this account to the Creator behind it all.


About the Author
Return to the Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?