Theology in Scripture is not opposed to history. To the contrary, biblical theology is always rooted in history
Richard M. Davidson
Scholars have increasingly recognized that the first three chapters of Genesis are set apart from the rest of the Bible, constituting a kind of prologue or introduction. These opening chapters of Scripture are now widely regarded as providing the paradigm for the rest of the Bible. John Rankin summarizes the growing conviction among biblical scholars: “Whether one is evangelical or liberal, it is clear that Genesis 1–3 is the interpretive foundation of all Scripture.”1
The most prominent theme displayed in Genesis 1 to 3 is that of creation, which involves various issues of origins. The opening chapters of Genesis are the foundational statement of Scripture regarding creation. The basic elements in the Genesis account of origins are encapsulated in the opening verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1:2
● “In the beginning” (the “when” of origins)
● “God” (the “who” of origins)
● “created” (the “how” of origins)
● “the heavens and the earth” (the “what” of origins)
The “When”: “In the beginning”
In discussing the “when” of creation, a number of questions arise for which an answer may be sought in the biblical text. Do Genesis 1 and 2 describe an absolute or a relative beginning? Does the Genesis account intend to present a literal, historical portrayal of origins, or is some kind of nonliteral interpretation implied in the text? Does the biblical text of Genesis 1 describe a single creation event (encompassed within the creation week), or a two-stage creation, with a prior creation described in Genesis 1:1, and some kind of interval implied between the description of Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 and onward? Does the Genesis account of origins present a recent beginning (at least for the events described beginning in Genesis 1:3, including life on Earth), or does it allow for long ages since creation week?
An absolute or relative beginning? The answer to the question of an absolute versus a relative beginning in Genesis 1 depends to a large degree upon the translation of the first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. There are two major translations—as an independent clause or as a dependent clause.
● Independent clause. The standard translation of Genesis 1:1 until recently was as an independent clause: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” According to the traditional interpretation (dominant until the triumph of historical criticism in the 19th century), this verse is taken as a main clause describing the first act of creation, with verse 2 depicting the condition of the earth after its initial creation phase, and verses 3 to 31 describing the subsequent creative work of God. Such translation/interpretation implies that God existed before matter, and thus, He created Planet Earth “out of nothing” at an absolute beginning for creation.
● Dependent clause. In recent decades, some modern versions have translated Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause, following the parallels in ancient Near East creation stories. Genesis 1:1 is taken as a temporal clause, either subordinate to verse 2 (“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the Earth was without form”), or subordinate to verse 3 with verse 2 as a parenthesis describing the state of the Earth when God began to create (“When God began to create the heavens and the earth [the earth being without form], then God said . . .”). In either case only verse 3 describes the actual commencement of the work of creation; when God began to create (Gen. 1:1), the earth already existed in the state described in Genesis 1:2. For either alternative, Genesis 1 does not address the absolute creation of Planet Earth, and thus, the end result is the same: It gives a relative beginning to creation, allows for the possibility of pre-existing matter before God’s creative work described in Genesis 1, and thus, allows for God and matter to be seen to be co-eternal principles.
Crucial implications of these two main translations—independent and dependent clause—may be summarized in the following table:
a. Creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) is explicitly affirmed.
a. No creatio ex nihilo is mentioned.
b. God exists before matter.
b. Matter is already in existence when God began to create, allowing for God and matter to be seen as co-eternal.
c. God created the heavens, Earth, darkness, the deep, and water.
c. The heavens, Earth, darkness, the deep, and water already existed at the beginning of God’s creative activity described in Genesis 1.
d. There is an absolute beginning of time for the cosmos.
d. No absolute beginning for time is indicated.
Victor Hamilton, in his commentary on Genesis, summarizes the importance of the proper translation of the opening verse of Scripture: “The issue between these two options—‘In the beginning when’ and ‘In the beginning’—is not esoteric quibbling or an exercise in micrometry. The larger concern is this: Does Genesis 1:1 teach an absolute beginning of creation as a direct act of God? Or does it affirm the existence of matter before the creation of the heavens and earth? To put the question differently, does Genesis 1:1 suggest that in the beginning there was one—God; or does it suggest that in the beginning there were two—God and preexistent chaos?”3
The modern impetus for shifting from the independent to the dependent clause translation of Genesis 1:1 is largely based on ancient Near East parallel creation stories, which begin with a dependent (temporal) clause. But such parallels cannot be the norm for interpreting Scripture.
Furthermore, it is now widely recognized that Genesis 1:1 to 3 does not constitute a close parallel with the ancient Near East creation stories. For example, no ancient Mesopotamian creation stories begin with a word like beginning. Hermann Gunkel, the father of form criticism, affirms: “The cosmogonies of other people contain no word which would come close to the first word of the Bible.”4 Numerous other differences between the biblical and extra-biblical ancient Near East creation stories reveal that far from borrowing from such, the biblical writer was engaged in a strong argument against these other views of origins.
Biblical evidence for the dependent clause interpretation is likewise vague. The alleged parallel with the introductory dependent clause of the Genesis 2 Creation account is not as strong as claimed, since Genesis 2:4 to 7, like the ancient Mesopotamian stories, has no word like beginning in Genesis 1:1, and there are other major differences in terminology, syntax, as well as literary and theological function.
Evidence for the traditional view (independent clause) is compelling:
● Grammar and syntax: Although the Hebrew word translated as “in the beginning” does not have the article, and thus, could theoretically be translated as a construct “In the beginning of . . . ,” the normal way for expressing the relationship in Hebrew is for the word to be followed by an absolute noun. In harmony with this normal function of Hebrew grammar, elsewhere in Scripture when the word for “in the beginning” occurs in a dependent clause, it is always followed by an absolute noun, not a finite verb, as in Genesis 1:1. Furthermore, in Hebrew grammar there is regularly no article with temporal expressions like “beginning” when linked with a preposition. Thus, “In the beginning” is the natural reading of this phrase. Isaiah 46:10 provides a precise parallel to Genesis 1:1: the term “from the beginning,” without the article, is clearly absolute. Grammatically, therefore, the natural reading of Genesis 1:1 is as an independent clause: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Syntactically, Umberto Cassuto points out that if Genesis 1:1 were a dependent clause, the Hebrew of Genesis 1:2 would have normally either omitted the verb altogether or placed the verb before the subject. The syntactical construction that begins Genesis 1:2, with and plus a noun (earth), indicates “that v. 2 begins a new subject” and “therefore, that the first verse is an independent sentence [independent clause].”5
● Short stylistic structure of Genesis 1: The traditional translation as an independent clause conforms to the pattern of concise sentences throughout the first chapter of the Bible. As Hershel Shanks remarks, “Why adopt a translation that has been aptly described as a [hopelessly tasteless] construction, one which destroys a sublime opening to the world’s greatest book?”6
● Theological thrust: The account of creation throughout Genesis 1 emphasizes the absolute transcendence of God over matter. This chapter describes One who is above and beyond His creation, implying creatio ex nihilo and thus, the independent clause.
● Ancient versions and other ancient witnesses: All the ancient versions of Scripture render Genesis 1:1 as an independent clause. This reading is followed by ancient witnesses such as Josephus Theophilis of Antioch (A.D. 180) and Pseudo-Justin (A.D. 220–300).
● Parallel with John 1:1–3: The prologue to the Gospel of John is clearly alluding to Genesis 1:1 and commences with the same phrase that begins Genesis 1:1 in the LXX—the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament. In John 1:1, as in the LXX, this phrase “In the beginning” has no article but is unmistakably part of an independent clause: “In the beginning was the Word.”
The weight of evidence within Scripture is decisive in pointing toward the traditional translation of Genesis 1:1 as an independent clause: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The opening verse of the Bible is a distancing from the cosmology of the ancient Near East, an emphasis upon an absolute beginning and implication of creatio ex nihilo, in contrast to the ancient Near East cyclical view of reality and the concept that matter is eternal.
A literal or non-literal beginning? The question of literal or non-literal interpretation of the Creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 is of major importance both for biblical theology and for contemporary concerns about origins. Many have recognized the intertextual linkage in Scripture between the opening chapters of the Old Testament and the closing chapters of the New Testament. In the overall canonical flow of Scripture, because of the inextricable connection between origins (Genesis 1–3) and end times (Revelation 20–22), without a literal beginning, there is no literal end. Furthermore, it may be argued that the doctrines of humanity, sin, salvation, judgment, Sabbath, etc., presented already in the opening chapters of Genesis, all hinge upon a literal interpretation of origins.
● Non-literal interpretations. Scholars who hold a non-literal interpretation of Genesis approach the issue in different ways. Some see Genesis 1 as mythology, based upon ancient Near East parallels as already noted. John Walton has recently advanced the theory of cosmic temple inauguration. According to Walton’s interpretation, the Genesis account describes “a seven-day inauguration of the cosmic temple, setting up its functions for the benefit of humanity, with God dwelling in relationship with his creatures.”7 Even though Walton regards the days of Creation as six literal days, for him this creation is only “functional creation,” i.e., assigning functions to the “cosmic temple.” He argues that, like the ancient Near East creation accounts, Genesis 1 says nothing about material creation and no passage in Scripture is concerned about the age of the Earth, and thus, we are free to accept theistic evolution as the means for God’s material creation of the cosmos.
Among evangelicals, a still popular interpretation of Genesis 1 is the “literary framework” hypothesis, which maintains that “the Bible’s use of the seven-day week in its narration of the creation is a literary (theological) framework and is not intended to indicate the chronology or duration of the acts of creation.”8 Other evangelical scholars contend that Genesis 1 and 2 are essentially theology, and thus, not to be taken literally. A related view argues that the Genesis creation texts are essentially liturgy/worship. So, for example, Fritz Guy states that “Genesis 1:1–2:3 is first of all an expression of praise, an act of worship, necessarily formulated in the language and conceptions of its time and place. Once the text is deeply experienced in worship, its transposition into a literal narrative, conveying scientifically relevant information, seems not merely a misunderstanding but a distortion, trivialization, and abuse of the text.”9
Another popular interpretation involves day-age symbolism. There are several day-age theories. First, a common evangelical symbolic view, sometimes called the (broad) concordist theory, is that the seven days represent seven long ages, thus, allowing for theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creation, although sometimes evolution is denied in favor of multiple step-by-step divine creation acts throughout the long ages). Another theory, the “progressive-creationist” view, regards the six days as literal days that each open a new creative period of indeterminate length. Still another theory, espoused particularly by Gerald Schroeder, attempts to harmonize the six 24-hour days of creation week with the billions of years for the universe as estimated by modern physicists, by positing “cosmic time.” The effect of all these day-age views is to have the six days represent much longer periods of time for creation.
Several evangelical scholars speak of the Genesis account of creation week in terms of “analogical” or “anthropomorphic” days: “The days are God’s workdays, their length is neither specified nor important, and not everything in the account needs to be taken as historically sequential.”10 Still other scholars see the Genesis creation account(s) as poetry, metaphor or parable, or vision.
Common to all these non-literal views is the assumption that the Genesis account of origins is not a literal, straightforward historical account of material creation.
● Evidence for a literal interpretation. There are several lines of evidence within the text of Genesis itself and elsewhere in Scripture that would indicate whether or not the creation account was intended to be taken as literal.
The literary genre of Genesis 1 to 11 points to the literal historical nature of the creation account. Kenneth Mathews shows how the suggestion of a “parable” genre—an illustration drawn from everyday experience—does not fit the contents of Genesis 1, nor does the “vision” genre, since it does not contain the typical preamble and other elements that accompany biblical visions.11 Steven Boyd shows that Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 is not intended to be read as poetry or extended poetic metaphor, but constitutes the narrative genre of “a literal historical account.”12 Likewise, Daniel Bediako has demonstrated that this passage “constitutes a historical narrative text type.”13 And Robert McCabe has concluded that “the framework view poses more exegetical and theological difficulties than it solves and that the traditional, literal reading provides the most consistent interpretation of the exegetical details associated with the context of the early chapters of Genesis.”14
Walter Kaiser has surveyed and found wanting the evidence for the mythological literary genre of these opening chapters of Genesis, and shows how the best genre designation is “historical narrative prose.”15
More recently, John Sailhamer has come to the same conclusion, pointing out the major differences between the style of the ancient Near East myths and biblical creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, prominent among which is that the myths were all written in poetry while the biblical creation stories are not poetry, but prose narratives. Furthermore, he argues that the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 lack any clues that they are to be taken as some kind of nonliteral, symbolic/metaphorical “meta-historical” narrative, as some recent evangelicals have maintained.
Sailhamer acknowledges that the creation narratives are different from later biblical narratives, but this is because of their subject matter (creation) and not their literary form (narrative). He suggests that perhaps Genesis 1 and 2 should be called “mega-history” to “describe literally and realistically aspects of our world known only to its Creator.” As mega-history, “that first week was a real and literal week—one like we ourselves experience every seven days—but that first week was not like any other week. God did an extraordinary work in that week, causing its events to transcend by far anything that has occurred since.”16
The literary structure of Genesis as a whole indicates the intended literal nature of the creation narratives. It is widely recognized that the whole Book of Genesis is structured by the word generations in connection with each section of the book (13 times). This is a word used in the setting of genealogies concerned with the accurate account of time and history. It means literally “begettings” or “bringings-forth” and implies that Genesis is the “history of beginnings.” This use of Genesis 2:4 shows that the narrator intends the account of creation to be just as literal as the rest of the Genesis narratives.
As Mathews puts it, “The recurring formulaic . . . device shows that the composition was arranged to join the historical moorings of Israel with the beginnings of the cosmos. In this way the composition forms an Adam-Noah-Abraham continuum that loops the patriarchal promissory blessings with the God of cosmos and all human history. The text does not welcome a different reading for Genesis 1–11 as myth versus the patriarchal narratives.”17
Later in his commentary, Mathews insightfully points out how the structuring of Genesis precludes taking the Genesis account as only theological and not historical: “If we interpret early Genesis as theological parable or story, we have a theology of creation that is grounded neither in history nor the cosmos. . . . The [generational] structure of Genesis requires us to read chap. 1 as relating real events that are presupposed by later Israel. . . . [I]f taken as theological story alone, the interpreter is at odds with the historical intentionality of Genesis.”18
For critical scholars who reject the historical reliability of all or most of the Book of Genesis, this literary evidence will only illuminate the intention of the final editor of Genesis, without any compelling force for their own belief system. But for those who claim to believe in the historicity of the patriarchal narratives, this structure of Genesis, including the appearance of “generations” six times within the first 11 chapters of Genesis, is a powerful internal testimony within the book itself that the account of origins is to be accepted as literally historical like the rest of the book.
Other internal evidence within Genesis that the creation account is to be taken literally, and not figuratively or as symbolical of seven long ages conforming to the evolutionary model—as suggested by some scholars. This involves the use of specific temporal terms. The phrase “evening and morning,” appearing at the conclusion of each of the six days of Creation, is used by the author to define clearly the nature of the “days” of Creation as literal 24-hour days. The references to “evening” and “morning” together outside of Genesis 1, invariably, without exception in the Old Testament (57 times), indicate a literal solar day. Again, the occurrences of “day” at the conclusion of each of the six days of Creation in Genesis 1 are all connected with a numeric adjective (“one [first] day,” “second day,” “third day,” etc.), and a comparison with occurrences of the term elsewhere in Scripture reveals that such usage always refers to literal days. Furthermore, references to the function of the Sun and Moon for signs, seasons, days, and years (Gen. 1:14) indicate literal time, not symbolic ages.
Intertextual references to the creation account elsewhere in Scripture confirm that the biblical writers understood the six days of Creation to be taken as six literal, historical, contiguous, creative, natural 24-hour days. If the six days of creation week were to be taken as symbolic of long ages, or of six visionary days of revelation, or only as analogical days, or anything less than the six days of a literal week, then the reference to Creation in the fourth commandment of Exodus 20:8 to 11, commemorating a literal Sabbath, would make no sense. This is a major argument, not just of Seventh-day Adventists and other Saturday-Sabbath keepers!19
The Sabbath commandment explicitly equates the six days of work followed by the seventh-day Sabbath with the six days of God’s creation work followed by the Sabbath. By equating humanity’s six-day work week with God’s six-day work week at creation, and further equating the Sabbath to be kept by humankind each week with the first Sabbath after creation week blessed and sanctified by God, the divine Lawgiver unequivocally interprets the first week as a literal week, consisting of seven consecutive, contiguous 24-hour days.
As a broader intertextual evidence for the literal nature of the creation accounts, as well as the historicity of the other accounts of Genesis 1 to 11, it is important to point out that Jesus and all New Testament writers refer to the first 11 chapters of Genesis with the underlying assumption that they are literal, reliable history. Every chapter of Genesis 1 to 11 is referred to somewhere in the New Testament, and Jesus Himself refers to Genesis 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Gerhard F. Hasel, Terence Fretheim, James Stambaugh, among others, have set forth in detail various lines of evidence, based on comparative, literary, linguistic, intertextual, and other considerations, which lead to the “inescapable conclusion” set forth by Hasel that the designation of the word translated as “day” in Genesis 1 means consistently a literal, natural day of approximately 24 hours. “The author of Genesis 1 could not have produced more comprehensive and all-inclusive ways to express the idea of a literal ‘day’ than the one chosen.”20 Stambaugh has concluded, according to his interpretation of the biblical evidence, that “God created in a series of six consecutive [approximately] twenty-four hour days.”21
Though the non-literal interpretations of biblical origins must be rejected in what they deny (namely, the literal, historical nature of the Genesis account), nevertheless many of them have an element of truth in what they affirm. The first two chapters of Genesis are concerned with mythology—not to affirm a mythological interpretation but as a polemic against ancient Near East mythology. Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a is structured in a literary, symmetrical form. However, the synthetic parallelism involved in the sequence of the days in Genesis 1 is not a literary artifice created by the human writer, but is explicitly described as part of the successive creative acts of God Himself, who as the Master Designer created aesthetically. The divine artistry of creation within the structure of space and time does not negate the historicity of the creation narrative.
The first two chapters of Genesis do present a profound theology: doctrines of God, Creation, humanity, Sabbath, etc., but theology in Scripture is not opposed to history. To the contrary, biblical theology is always rooted in history. There is no criterion within the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 that allows separation between cosmogony and cosmology, as some have claimed, in order to reject the details of a literal six-day Creation while retaining the theological truth that the world depends upon God.
Likewise, there is profound symbolism and sanctuary/temple imagery in Genesis 1. For example, the language describing the Garden of Eden and the occupation of Adam and Eve clearly allude to the sanctuary imagery and the work of the priests and Levites (Exodus 25–40). Thus, the sanctuary of Eden is a symbol (or better, a type) of the heavenly sanctuary (Eze. 28:12–14; Ex. 25:9, 40). But the fact that it points beyond itself does not detract from its own literal reality. Neither does the assigning of functions in this Eden sanctuary exclude the material creation that also took place during the literal six days of creation. The Genesis creation account does lead the reader to worship—worship of the true Creator God (see the first angel’s message in Revelation 14:6, 7), but the account itself is not liturgy or worship.
Some biblical scholars who reject a literal, six-day creation week frankly admit that their ultimate criterion for such rejection is on the level of foundational presuppositions, in which the sola Scriptura principle is no longer maintained. Rather, some other authority or methodology—be it science, ancient Near Eastern materials, historical-critical principles (methodological doubt, causal continuum, rule of analogy), etc.—has been accepted in place of the sola Scriptura principle. This is true of both liberal-critical and conservative-evangelical scholars.
For example, Evangelical scholars Karl Giberson and Francis Collins acknowledge the great weight of the [so-called] “assured results” of science with regard to origins in their interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2: “We do not believe that God would provide two contradictory revelations. God’s revelation in nature, studied by science, should agree with God’s revelation in Scripture, studied by theology. Since the revelation from science is so crystal clear about the age of the earth, we believe we should think twice before embracing an approach to the Bible that contradicts this revelation.”22
Two other Evangelical scholars, Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman, freely acknowledge their pre-understanding regarding the relationship between science and theology: “We believe contemporary science addresses questions on how physical and biological processes began and continue to develop, while theology and philosophy answer why for these same questions.”23 To cite another example, Walton presupposes that to understand biblical culture, including the biblical view of creation, “The key then is to be found in the literature from the rest of the ancient world.”24 Based upon the supposed nonmaterial, functional creation described in ancient Near East literature, Walton finds the same in Genesis 1 and 2, and thus, is free to accept theistic evolution as taught by science, since the Bible does not speak of material creation.
It is ironic to note that liberal-critical scholars, who frankly acknowledge their historical-critical presuppositions, who do not take the authority of the early chapters of Genesis seriously, and thus, have nothing to lose with regard to their personal faith and the relationship between faith and science, have almost universally acknowledged that the intent of the one who wrote Genesis 1 was to indicate a regular week of six literal days.
Yet there are a host of scholars, ancient and modern—both critical and evangelical—who affirm that the first two chapters of Genesis teach a literal, material creation week consisting of six historical, contiguous, creative, natural 24-hour days, followed immediately by a literal 24-hour seventh day, during which God rested, blessed, and sanctified the Sabbath as a memorial of creation.
Single or two-stage beginning? Does the opening chapter of the Bible depict a single week of creation for all that is encompassed in Genesis 1, or does it imply a prior creation before creation week, and some kind of time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 and onward? This issue focuses upon the relationship among Genesis 1:1; 1:2; and 1:3 and beyond. Several different interpretations of this relationship have been advanced.
● Active-gap theory. A first interpretation is often labeled as the ruin-restoration or the active-gap view. According to this understanding, Genesis 1:1 describes an originally perfect creation some unknown time ago (millions, billions of years ago). Satan was ruler of this world, but because of his rebellion (described in Isaiah 14:12 to 17), sin entered the universe. Some proponents of the active-gap position hold that God judged this rebellion and reduced it to the ruined, chaotic state described in Genesis 1:2. Others claim that Satan was allowed by God to experiment with this world, and the chaos described in Genesis 1:2 is the direct result of satanic experimentation. In any case, those holding this view translate Genesis 1:2: “the earth became without form and void.”
Genesis 1:3 and onward, then, presents an account of a later creation in which God restores what had been ruined. The geological column is usually fitted into the period of time of the first creation (Gen. 1:1) and the succeeding chaos, and not in connection with the biblical flood.
The ruin-restoration or active-gap theory simply cannot stand the test of close grammatical analysis. Genesis 1:2 clearly contains three noun clauses, and the fundamental meaning of noun clauses in Hebrew is something fixed, a state or condition, not a sequence or action. According to laws of Hebrew grammar, one must translate “the earth was unformed and unfilled,” not “the earth became unformed and unfilled.” Thus, Hebrew grammar leaves no room for the active-gap theory.
● Initial unformed-unfilled view—no-gap and passive-gap theories. The no-gap and passive-gap theories are subheadings of an interpretation of biblical cosmogony in Genesis 1 that may be termed the initial unformed-unfilled view. This is the traditional view, having the support of the majority of Jewish and Christian interpreters through history. According to this initial unformed-unfilled view (and common to both the no-gap and passive-gap theories), Genesis 1:1 declares that God created “the heavens and earth”; verse 2 clarifies that the Earth was initially in an “unformed” and “unfilled” state; and verses 3 and onward describe the divine process of forming the unformed and filling the unfilled.
This interpretation cohesively follows the natural flow of these verses, without contradiction or omission of any element of the text. However, there are two crucial aspects in this creation process about which there is disagreement among those who hold to the “initial unformed-unfilled” view. These concern (1) when the creation of the “heavens and earth” described in verse 1 occurred—either at the commencement or during the seven days of Creation, or sometime before; and (2) what is referred to by the phrase “heavens and earth”—a figure of speech for the entire universe, or a reference only to this Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres (i.e., our solar system). Depending upon how these two aspects are interpreted, four major possibilities present themselves, two variations of the no-gap theory, and two variations of the passive-gap theory.
(1) No-gap theory A: young-universe-young-life. Under the no-gap theory, some see verses 1 and 2 all as part of the first day of the seven-day creation week, and the term “heavens and earth” are taken as a figure of speech to refer to the entire universe. This interpretation concludes that the entire universe was created in six literal days some 6,000 years ago. This theory may be called the young-universe-young-life view, and is equated with contemporary young-Earth scientific creationism, espoused by many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, and represented by such organizations as the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis.
(2) No-gap theory B: young-Earth (not universe)-young-life (on Earth). The other variant of the no-gap theory also sees verses 1 and 2 as part of the first day of the seven-day creation week, but takes the term “heavens and earth” to apply only to this Earth and its immediate surrounding atmospheric heavens (and perhaps the Solar System). This Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres were created during the Genesis 1 creation week, and according to this position nothing is mentioned in Genesis 1 about the creation of the entire universe. This view may be termed the young-Earth (not universe)-young-life (on Earth) interpretation, and has been suggested by several scholars.
(3) Passive-gap theory A: old-universe (including Earth)-young life (on Earth). With regard to the passive-gap options, some see verses 1 and 2 as a chronological unity separated by a gap in time from the first day of Creation described in verse 3. The expression “heavens and earth” in verse 1 is taken as a figure of speech to refer to the entire universe that was created “in the beginning,” before creation week (which initial creation may be called the creatio prima). Verse 2 describes the “raw materials” of the Earth in their unformed-unfilled state that were created before—perhaps long before—the seven days of creation week. Verses 3 and onward depict the actual creation week (which may be called creatio secunda). This view may be termed the old-universe (including the Earth)-young-life (on Earth) view, and is also widely held by Seventh-day Adventist scholars as well by as a number of other interpreters.
(4) Passive-gap theory B: old-Earth-young life (on Earth). Another variant of the passive-gap position also sees Genesis 1:1 separated by a chronological gap from verse 3, but takes the expression “heavens and earth” to refer only to this Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres, which were in their unformed-unfilled state for an unspecified length of time before the events described in creation week. According to this possibility, nothing is said about the creation of the universe in Genesis 1. This view may be termed the old-Earth, young-life (on Earth) position, and is supported by some Seventh-day Adventist scholars.
Even though position No. 1 above (no-gap theory, young-universe-young life) is very popular among conservative evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists, Seventh-day Adventist interpreters have generally rejected this option, because positing a creation of the entire universe in the six-day creation week does not allow for the rise of the Great Controversy in heaven, involving the rebellion of Lucifer-turned-Satan and his angels, described in many biblical passages as a process that clearly took far more than a week to develop (Isa. 14:12–17; Eze. 28:11–19; Rev. 12:3–12).
Furthermore, it contradicts the clear statement in Job 38:4 to 7 that at the laying of the foundations of this Earth, unfallen heavenly beings (the “morning stars” and “sons of God”) were already in existence: “‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’”
The young-universe, young-life view also falters if Genesis 1:1, 2 may be shown to stand outside of the six days of creation described in Genesis 1:3 and onward.
The no-gap theory B, No. 2 above, young-Earth (not universe)-young-life (on Earth), is a possibility. Proponents of this view argue that the terms “the heavens” and “earth” in verse 1 are the same terms found later in the chapter and thus, should be regarded as referring to the same identities: This Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres, not the entire universe. They also point out that the phrase translated as “the heavens and the earth” (1:1) appears again in virtually the same form at the conclusion of the six days of Creation (2:1), and suggest that Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 introduce and conclude the six days of Creation. Furthermore, the reference in the fourth commandment of the Decalogue to “heavens and earth” being made “in six days” (Ex. 20:11) is seen as supporting this position. A careful examination of these very points, however, actually favors the passive-gap A view (No. 3 above, old-universe [including Earth]-young life [on Earth]).
● The two-stage creation of this Earth (the passive-gap interpretation). These four alternative positions may also be labeled in terms of the number of creation stages represented and what is being created:
No-gap A = single-stage creation (of the entire universe)
No-gap B = single-stage creation (of this Earth only)
Passive-gap A = two-stage creation (of the entire universe, including this Earth)
Passive-gap B = two-stage creation (of this Earth only)
A number of textual considerations and intertextual parallels lead to the two-stage creation (“passive-gap”) interpretation in general, and more specifically, variation A (No. 3 above, the two-stage creation [of the entire universe]), also called the old-universe [including Earth]-young life [for this Earth] view.
First, as John Hartley points out, “The consistent pattern used for each day of creation tells us that verses 1, 2 are not an integral part of the first day of creation (vss. 3–5). That is, these first two verses stand apart from the report of what God did on the first day of creation.”25 Hartley is referring to the fact that each of the biblical account of each of the six days of Creation begins with the words, “And God said” and ends with the formula “and there was evening and there was morning, day x.” If the description of the first day is consistent with the other five, this would place verses 1 and 2 outside of, and therefore before, the first day of Creation.
Second, recent discourse analysis of Genesis 1:1 at the beginning of the Genesis 1 creation account indicates that the “discourse grammar” of these verses points to a two-stage creation. The main storyline does not begin till verse 3. This implies a previous creation of “the heavens and earth” in their unformed-unfilled state before the beginning of creation week, and supports either variation of the passive-gap interpretation.
Third, the phrase “the heavens and the earth” in Genesis 1:1 is most probably to be taken here, as often elsewhere in Scripture, as a figure of speech to include all that God has created, i.e., the entire universe. If “the heavens and the earth” refers to the whole universe, this “beginning” (at least for part of the heavens) must have been before the first day of Earth’s creation week, since the “sons of God” (unfallen created beings) were already created and sang for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid (Job 38:7). This point supports the passive-gap theory A (No. 3 above), as opposed to B (No. 4 above).
Fourth, the “heavens and earth” (entire universe) of Genesis 1:1 are to be distinguished from “heaven, earth, and sea” (the three Earth habitats) of Genesis 1:3 to 31 and Exodus 20:11. This means that the creation action of Genesis 1:1 is outside or before the six-day Creation of Exodus 20:11, and of Genesis 1:3 to 31. (This point also supports passive-gap theory A and not B.)
Fifth, the expression “the heavens and the earth” indeed brackets the first creation account, as noted by those who support the no-gap theory. But what is not usually recognized in that argumentation is that the phrase “the heavens and the earth” appears twice in the creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:4. It occurs in Genesis 2:1, but in this verse it is used to refer to the three habitats found in Genesis 1:3 to 31. The entire phrase that we find in this verse is “the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them” (italics supplied), which is not a figure of speech, as in Genesis 1:1, but a reference to the biosphere that is formed and filled during the six days of Creation. There is, however, a figure of speech employing the “heavens and the earth” at the end of the Genesis 1 creation account. It is found in 2:4: “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” It is this reference to “the heavens and the earth” that parallels the phrase in Genesis 1:1, and like Genesis 1:1, refers to the creation of the entire cosmos, i.e., the universe. This forms a chiastic structure, with an a-b-b-a pattern, in the usage of the phrase “the heavens and the earth.”
a: Genesis 1:1—”the heavens and the earth” referring to the entire universe.
b: Genesis 1:3–31—“Heaven, Earth, Sea” of Planet Earth’s three habitats.
b: Genesis 2:1—“heavens and earth and their hosts” involving Earth’s three habitats.
a: Genesis 2:4a—“the heavens and the earth” referring to the entire universe.
This point supports passive-gap theory A and not theory B.
Sixth, Sailhamer points out that the Hebrew word for “beginning” used in Genesis 1:1, “does not refer to a point in time, but to a period orduration of time which falls before a series of events.”26 In the context of Genesis 1:1 to 3, this would seem to imply that (a) the first verse of the Bible refers back to the process of time in which God created the universe; (b) sometime during that process, this Earth was created, but it was initially in an unformed-unfilled state; and (c) as a potter or architect first gathers materials, and then at some point later begins shaping the pot on the potter’s wheel or constructing the building, so God, the Master Artist—Potter and Architect—first created the raw materials of the Earth, and then at the appropriate creative moment, began to form and fill the Earth in the six literal working days of creation week. The text of Genesis 1:1 does not indicate how long before creation week the universe (“heavens and earth”) was created. This and the following points could be seen to support a two-stage creation, either variation A or B of the passive-gap interpretation.
Seventh, already in the creation account of Genesis 1:3 to 31, there is an emphasis upon God’s differentiating or separating previously created materials. On the second day, God divided what was already present—the waters from the waters (vss. 6–8). On the third day, the dry land appeared (which seems to imply it was already present under the water), and the previously existing Earth brought forth vegetation (vss. 9–12). On the fifth day, the waters brought forth the fish (vs. 20) and on the sixth day, the Earth brought forth land creatures (vs. 24), implying God’s use of pre-existing elements.
Eighth, such a two-stage process of creation in Genesis 1, like the work of a potter or architect, is supported by the complementary creation account of Genesis 2. In Genesis 2:7, it is evident that God began with the previously created ground or clay, and from this “formed” the man. There is a two-stage process, beginning with the “raw materials”—the clay—and proceeding to the “forming” into man and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. It is probably not accidental that the narrator here uses the verb “to form,” which describes what a potter does with the clay on his potter’s wheel. The participial form of the original word actually means “potter,” and the narrator may here be alluding to God’s artistic work as a Master Potter. In God’s creation of the woman, He likewise follows a two-stage process. He begins with the raw materials that are already created—the “side” or “rib” of the man—and from this God “builds” the woman (vss. 21, 22). Again, it is certainly not accidental that only here in Genesis 1 and 2 is the verb for “to architecturally design and build” used of God’s creation. He is a Master Designer/Architect as He creates woman!
Ninth, parallels between Genesis 1 and 2 and the account of building the wilderness sanctuary and Solomon’s temple seem to point further toward a two-stage creation for this Earth. As mentioned earlier, the work of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is described in technical language that specifically parallels the building of Moses’ sanctuary and Solomon’s temple. Such intertextual linkages have led numerous Old Testament interpreters to recognize that according to the narrative clues, the whole Earth is to be seen as the original courtyard and the Garden of Eden as the original sanctuary/temple on this planet. Significantly, the construction of both Mosaic sanctuary and Solomonic temple took place in two stages. First came the gathering of the materials according to the divine plans and command (Ex. 25:1–9; 35:4–9, 20–29; 36:1–7; 1 Chron. 28:1–29:9; 2 Chronicles 2), and then came the building process utilizing the previously gathered materials (Ex. 36:8–39:43; 2 Chronicles 3 and 4). A pattern of two-stage divine creative activity seems to emerge from these parallels that gives further impetus to accepting the passive-gap interpretation of Genesis 1.
Last, but certainly not least, God’s creative activity throughout the rest of the Bible often involves a two-stage process, presupposing a previous creation. Examples include God’s “creating” of His people Israel, using language of Genesis 1:2; God’s creation of a “new heart” (Ps. 51:10); His “making” of the new [i.e., renewed] covenant (Jer. 31:33); and Jesus’ healing miracles involving a two-stage creation (e.g., John 9:6, 7). In particular, the eschatological creation of the new heavens and earth presupposes previously existing materials. Inasmuch as origins parallel end times in Scripture (Genesis 1 to 3 matching Revelation 20 to 22), it is vital to observe the depictions of the end time new creation described in 2 Peter 3:10 to 13 and Revelation 20 to 22 and their parallels with Genesis 1 and 2.
After the second coming of Christ, the Earth will return to its unformed-unfilled condition paralleling Genesis 1:22 (see Jeremiah 4:23 and Revelation 20:1, which use the terminology of Genesis 1:2). After the millennium, the Earth will be purified by fire (Rev. 20:9, 14, 15; 2 Peter 3:10, 12), but the “new heavens and earth” (Rev. 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13) will not be created ex nihilo, but out of the purified raw materials, or “elements” (2 Peter 3:12) remaining from the fire purification process—elements that have been in existence for (at least) thousands of years (2 Peter 3:10, 12). If the eschatological creation involved a two-stage process, with God utilizing previously created matter to create the “[re]new[ed] heavens and earth,” then it would not be out of character for God to have followed a similar two-stage creation in Genesis 1 and 2.
A growing number of recent studies of Genesis 1:1 to 3 have come to support the conclusion of a two-stage creation and the passive-gap interpretation, in particular, the old-universe (including Earth)-young life (on Earth) variation. Collins’s conclusion is illustrative of Genesis 1:1 to 3: “It tells us of the origin of everything [in the universe] in 1:1 and then narrows its attention as the account proceeds. The first verse, as I see it, narrates the initial creation event; then verse 2 describes the condition of the earth just before the creation week gets under way. These two verses stand outside of the six days of God’s workweek, and—just speaking grammatically—say nothing about the length of time between the initial event of 1:1 and the first day of 1:3.”27
Those who support the no-gap theory often argue against the passive-gap theory by denying any evidence for such a theory in the biblical text: “There is no textual or contextual basis for supposing that it [Genesis 1:1] introduces a second process of creation described in Genesis 1:2 to 31, separated by an indefinite period of time (as much as 13.7 billion years) from a first process of creation mentioned in Genesis 1:1.”28But at least 10 lines of evidence from the text have herein been listed that in fact do support a two-stage creation.
In connection with this argument, it is often conjectured that “the ‘gap theory’ seems to be motivated by a desire to harmonize Gen. 1 with modern scientific understandings of the size and age of the known universe by interpreting Gen. 1:2–31 as describing only the creation of life on planet Earth.”29 It is suggested that the passive-gap theory is an attempt “to harmonize Scripture and Science. . . . We are being forced to accept the gap by science not by Scripture.”30
The Hebrew text of Genesis 1, not science, supports the passive-gap (the old-universe [including this Earth]-young life [for this Earth]) interpretation of Genesis 1. It need not be dependent upon, or motivated by, the accuracy or inaccuracy of the radiometric time clocks for Earth rocks, but represents an attempt to be faithful to Scripture, and if some scientific data are harmonized in the process, then all the better. John Lennox has stated it well: “Quite apart from any scientific considerations, the text of Genesis 1:1, in separating the beginning from day 1, leaves the age of the universe indeterminate. It would therefore be logically possible to believe that the days of Genesis are twenty-four-hour days (of one earth week) and to believe that the universe is very ancient. I repeat: this has nothing to do with science. Rather, it has to do with what the text actually says.”31
● Implications for modern scientific interpretation. The possible openness in the Hebrew text as to whether there is a gap or not between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3 to 31, has implications for interpreting the pre-fossil layers of the geological column. If one accepts the no-gap theory B option (young-Earth [not universe]-young-life [on Earth]), there is a possibility of relatively young pre-fossil rocks, created as part of the seven-day creation week (perhaps with the appearance of old age). If one accepts the passive-gap theory A option (old-universe [including Earth]-young life [on Earth]), or the passive-gap theory B option (old-earth-young life [on Earth]), there is the alternate possibility of the pre-fossil “raw materials” being created at a time of absolute beginning of this Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres at an unspecified time in the past. This initial unformed-unfilled state is described in verse 2. Verses 3 to 31 then describe the process of forming and filling during the seven-day creation week.
The biblical text of Genesis 1 leaves room for either (a) young pre-fossil rock, created as part of the seven days of Creation (with appearance of old age), or (b) much older pre-fossil Earth rocks, with a long interval between the creation of the inanimate “raw materials” on Earth described in Genesis 1:1 and 2 and the seven days of creation week described in Genesis 1:3 and onward. In either case, the biblical text calls for a shortchronology for the creation of life on Earth. According to Genesis 1, there is no room for any gap of time in the creation of life on this Earth: it came during the third through the sixth of the literal, contiguous (approximately) 24-hour days of creation week.
A recent or remote beginning? Scripture provides no information as to how long ago God created the universe as a whole. But there is strong evidence that the creation week described in Genesis 1:3 to 2:4 was recent, sometime in the last several thousand years, and not hundreds of thousands, millions, or billions of years ago. The evidence for this is primarily in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. These are unique, with no parallel among the other genealogies of the Bible or other ancient Near East literature. Unlike the other genealogies, which may (and in fact often do) contain gaps, the “chronogenealogies” of Genesis 5 and 11 have indicators that they are to be taken as complete genealogies without gaps. These unique interlocking features indicate a specific focus on chronological time and reveal an intention to make clear that there are no gaps between the individual patriarchs mentioned. A patriarch lived xyears, begat a son; after he begat this son, he lived y more years, and begat more sons and daughters; and all the years of this patriarch were zyears. These tight interlocking features make it virtually impossible to argue that there are significant generational gaps. Rather, they purport to present the complete time sequence from father to direct biological son throughout the genealogical sequence from Adam to Abraham.
To further substantiate the absence of major gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, the Hebrew grammatical form of the verb begat used throughout these chapters is the special causative form that elsewhere in the Old Testament generally refers to actual direct physical offspring, i.e., biological father-son relationship (Gen. 6:10; Judges 11:1; 1 Chron. 8:9; 14:3; 2 Chron. 11:21; 13:21; 24:3). In Genesis 5 and 11, there is clearly a concern for completeness, accuracy, and precise length of time.
There are several different textual versions of the chronological data in these two chapters: Hebrew text, Greek translation, and Samaritan Pentateuch. The scholarly consensus is that the Hebrew text has preserved the original figures in their purest form, while the Greek translation and Samaritan versions have intentionally schematized the figures for theological reasons. But regardless of which text is chosen, it represents a difference of only a thousand years or so.
Regarding the chronology from Abraham to the present, there is disagreement among Bible-believing scholars whether the Israelite sojourn in Egypt was 215 years or 430 years, and thus, whether to put Abraham in the early second millennium or the late third millennium B.C.; but other than this minor difference, the basic chronology from Abraham to the present is clear from Scripture, and the total is only some 4,000 (+/- 200) years.
Thus, the Bible presents a relatively recent creation (of life on this Earth) a few thousand years ago, not hundreds of thousands or millions/billions. Though minor ambiguities do not allow placement of the exact date, according to Scripture the seven-day creation week unambiguously occurred recently. This recent creation becomes significant in light of the character of God. A God of love surely would not allow pain and suffering to continue any longer than necessary to make clear the issues in the Great Controversy. He wants to bring an end to suffering and death as soon as possible; it is totally out of character with the God of the Bible to allow a history of cruelty and pain to go on for long periods of time—millions of years—when it would serve no purpose in demonstrating the nature of His character in the cosmic controversy against Satan. Thus, the genealogies, pointing to a recent creation, are a window into the heart of a loving, compassionate God.
The “Who”: “In the beginning God”
The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 emphasize the character of God. While accurately presenting the facts of creation, the emphasis is undoubtedly not so much upon crea-tion as upon the Creat-or. As Mathews puts it, “‘God’ is the grammatical subject of the first sentence (1:1) and continues as the thematic subject throughout the account.”32
The character of God. In Genesis 1 and 2, two different names for God appear, not as supporting evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis, but to emphasize the two major character qualities of the Creator. In Genesis 1:1; 2:4, He is identified in a generic name for God, meaning “All-powerful One,” and emphasizing His transcendence as the universal, cosmic, self-existent, almighty, infinite God. This emphasis upon God’s transcendence is in accordance with the universal framework of the first creation account, in which God is before and above creation, and creates effortlessly by His divine word. In the supplementary creation account of Genesis 2:4 to 25, another name for the Deity is introduced. He is here identified using God’s covenant name; He is the immanent, personal God, who enters into intimate relationship with His creatures. Just such a God is depicted in this second creation account: One who bends down as a Potter over a lifeless lump of clay to “shape/form” the man and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life (2:7); who plants a garden (vs. 8); who “architecturally designs/builds” the woman (vs. 22) and officiates at the first wedding (vss. 22–24). Only the Judeo-Christian God is both infinite and personal to meet the human need of an infinite reference point and personal relationship.
Any interpretation of the biblical account of origins must recognize the necessity of remaining faithful to this twofold portrayal of the character of God in the opening chapters of Scripture. Interpretations of these chapters that present God as an accomplice, active or passive, in an evolutionary process of survival of the fittest, millions of years of predation, prior to the fall of humans, must seriously reckon with how these views impinge upon the character of God. Evolutionary creation (theistic evolution) or progressive creationism makes God responsible for millions of years of death, suffering, natural selection, survival of the fittest, even before sin. Such positions seem to malign the character of God, and this should provide strong reason for pause to the biblical interpreter to consider whether such interpretations of origins are consistent with the explicit depictions of God’s character in Genesis 1 and 2 and elsewhere in Scripture.
Other considerations. A number of other considerations are related to the “who” of creation, including, among others, the following points, which can be only summarized here:
● No proof of God is provided, but rather from the outset comes the bold assertion of His existence.
● God is the ultimate foundation of reality. As Ellen G. White expresses it: “‘In the beginning God.’ Genesis 1:1. Here alone can the mind in its eager questioning, fleeing as the dove to the ark, find rest.’”33
● The portrayal of God in the creation account provides a polemic against the polytheism of the ancient Near East with its many gods, their moral decadence like humankind, the rivalry and struggle between the deities, their mortality, and their pantheism (the gods are part of the uncreated world-matter).
● There are intimations of the plurality in the Godhead in creation, with mention of the “Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2; the creative Word throughout the creation account (10 times in Genesis 1); and the “let us” of Genesis 1:26, most probably a “a plural of fullness,” implying “within the divine Being a distinction of personalities, a plurality within the deity, a ‘unanimity of intention and plan’ . . . ; [the] germinal idea . . . [of] intra-divine deliberation among ‘persons’ within the divine Being.”34
● The “who” of creation also helps answer the “why” of creation. With intimations of a plurality of persons within the Deity, and the character of God being one of covenant love, it would be only natural for Him to wish to create other beings with whom He could share fellowship. This is implicit in the creation account in which Wisdom (an essence for the pre-incarnate Christ) is “rejoicing” (literally, “playing, sporting”!) both with Yahweh and with the humans that have been created (vss. 30, 31). It is explicit in Isaiah 45:18: “He did not create it [the earth] empty, he formed it to be inhabited!” (ESV).
The “How”: “In the beginning God created”
Many scholars claim that the biblical creation accounts are not concerned with the “how” of creation, but only with the theological point that God created. It is true that Genesis 1 and 2 provide no technical scientific explanation of the divine creative process. But there is a great deal of attention to the “how” of divine creation, and this cannot be discarded as the husk of the creation accounts to get at the theological kernel of truth that God was the Creator. Though not given in technical scientific language, Genesis nonetheless describes the reality of the divine creative process, using clear observational language. It seems that the events of the six days of creation “are told from the perspective of one who is standing on the earth’s surface observing the universe with the naked eye.”35 The biblical text gives several indicators of the “how” of creation.
By uniquely divine creativity. According to Genesis 1, the Hebrew verb used to describe God’s creativity is uniquely divine (“create,” Gen. 1:1, 21, 27; 2:4). This word describes exclusively God’s action; it is never used of human activity. It is also never used with the accusative of matter: what is created is something totally new and effortlessly produced. By itself, the term does not indicate creatio ex nihilo (see Ps. 51:12), as has been sometimes claimed. However, in the context of the entire verse of Genesis 1:1, taken as an independent clause describing actual new material creation of the entire universe, creatio ex nihilo is explicitly affirmed. By employing this term the Genesis account provides an implicit argument against the common ancient Near East views of creation by sexual procreation or by a struggle with the forces of chaos.
By divine fiat. Creation in Genesis 1 is also by divine fiat: “God said, ‘Let there be . . .’” (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). The psalmist summarizes this aspect of how God created: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. . . . For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6, 9). According to Genesis 1, the universe and this Earth are not self-existent, random, struggled for.
The Genesis account is in stark contrast with the Mesopotamian concept of creation resulting from the struggle between rival deities or the sexual activity of the gods, and also in contrast with Egyptian Memphite theology, in which the creative speech of the god Ptah is a magical utterance. In biblical theology, the “word” of God is concrete; it is the embodiment of power. When God speaks, there is an immediate response in creative action. Part of God’s word is His blessing, and in Hebrew thought God’s blessing is the empowering of the one/thing blessed to fulfill the intended function for which he/she/it was made. God’s creation by divine fiat underscores the centrality of the Word in the creation process.
As a polemic. Specific terminology is used (or avoided) by the narrator, which appears to be an intentional argument against the mythological struggle with a chaos monster and prevalence of polytheistic deities found in the Mesopotamian creation texts. The word deep in Genesis 1:2 is an “unmythologized” masculine rather than the mythological feminine sea monster Tiamat. Again, the names sun and moon are (vss. 14–19) substituted with the generic terms “greater light” and “lesser light” because the Hebrew names for these luminaries are also the names of deities. As a final example, the term “sea monsters” (vss. 21, 22), the name for both mythological creatures and natural sea creatures/serpents, is retained (as the only vocabulary available to express this kind of animal), but this usage is coupled with the strongest term for creation (implying something totally new, no struggle), a term not employed in Genesis 1 since verse 1, to dispel any thought of a rival god.
The “how” of creation was no doubt penned by the narrator under inspiration with a view toward exposing and warning against the polytheistic Egyptian environment surrounding Israel before the Exodus and the Canaanite environment in which the Israelites would soon find themselves. But the omniscient divine Author certainly also inspired this creation account in order to be a polemic for all time against views of creation that might violate or distort the true picture of God’s creative work. The inspired description of God’s effortless, personal, rapid creation by divine fiat protects modern humanity from accepting naturalistic, violent, random components into one’s picture of creation.
Dramatically and aesthetically. God is portrayed in Genesis 1 and 2 as a Master Designer, creating dramatically and aesthetically. As already noted in the previous section, God “formed” the man like a potter and “designed/built” the woman like an architect. When He made this world, He surely could have created it completed in an instant, if He had chosen to do so, but He instead dramatically choreographed the creation pageant over seven days. Note the aesthetic symmetry of the very structure of God’s creation in space and time, similar to the Hebrew aesthetic technique of synthetic parallelism, in which a series of words/acts/scenes are completed by a matching series.
|Introduction (Genesis 1:1)|
|Genesis 1:1, 2||“unformed”||“unfilled”|
|a. light||a1. luminaries|
|b. sky and water separated||b1. inhabitants of sky and water|
|c. dry land and vegetation||c1. inhabitants of land, animals and man|
|Conclusion (Genesis 2:2, 3)|
The Sabbath—A Palace in Time!
God is both scientist and artist!
In the span of six days. The literal six days of Creation have been addressed under the section of the “when” of creation, but this concept is also an important component of the “how” of creation. On one hand, according to Genesis 1, God’s method of creation is not an instantaneous “timeless” act in which all things described in Genesis 1 and 2 in one momentary flash suddenly appeared. Contrary to the suppositions of Greek dualistic philosophy, which controlled the worldview of early Christian thinkers such as Origen and Augustine (and still underlies the methodology of much Catholic, Protestant, and modern thought), God is not essentially “timeless” and unable to enter into spatio-temporal reality. Genesis 1 and 2 underscore that God actually created in time as well as in space, creating the raw materials of the Earth during a period of time before creation week, and then deliberately and dramatically forming and filling these inorganic, pre-fossil materials throughout the seven-day creation week. Thus, Genesis 1 and 2 serve as a strong bulwark against Greek dualistic thought and calls the contemporary interpreter back to radical biblical realism in which God actually enters time and space, creates in time and space, and calls it “very good.”
On the other hand, the method of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is also a powerful witness against accepting the creation week as occupying long ages of indefinite time, as claimed by proponents of progressive creationism. As mentioned, Genesis 1:3 to 2:3 clearly refers to the creation week as seven literal, historical, contiguous, creative, natural, 24-hour days. Further, all life on Planet Earth was created during this creation week (days three through six), and not before. Any attempt to bring long ages into the creation week, either through some kind of progressive creation or some other non-literal, non-historical interpretation of the creation week of Genesis 1, is out of harmony with the original intention of the text. Numerous quotations have been cited from both critical and conservative scholars that acknowledge this fact. And Genesis 1 demands an interpretation of rapid creation for the life forms on this planet—plants on day three, fish and fowl on day five, and the other animals and humans on day six. There is no room in the biblical text for the drawn-out process of evolution (even so-called “rapid evolution”!) to operate as a methodology to explain the origin of life during creation week.
The “What”: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”
“The heavens and the earth”—the Universe: Genesis 1:1. Some have taken the phrase in Genesis 1:1― “the heavens and the earth”―to refer only to this Earth and its surrounding heavenly spheres (i.e., the atmosphere and perhaps beyond to include the Solar System). This interpretation is following the contextual lead of the usages of the terms “heaven” and “earth” later in Genesis 1 (especially verses 8 and 10), and cannot be absolutely ruled out as a possible way of understanding this phrase. However, significant differences may be noted between the use of the phrase “the heavens and the earth” in the opening verse of Genesis 1 compared to the use of the two terms “heavens” and “earth” separately later in the chapter. In Genesis 1:1, both “the heavens” and “the earth” contain the article, whereas when these are named in Genesis 1 (vss. 8, 10), they do not have the article. More importantly, in Genesis 1:1 one encounters two terms (“the heavens and the earth”), whereas later in Genesis 1 there are three terms: “heavens,” “earth,” and “sea” (vss. 8, 10).
Genesis commentators widely recognize that when used together as a pair in the Hebrew Bible, the two terms “the heavens and the earth” constitute a figure of speech for the totality of all creation in the cosmos (i.e., what we would describe as the entire universe), and that such is the case also in Genesis 1:1. As Sailhamer puts it, “By linking these two extremes into a single expression [‘the heavens and the earth’], the Hebrew language expresses the totality of all that exists.”36 This observation is most likely valid. Thus, Genesis 1:1, as already intimated in an earlier section of this study, refers to the creation of the entire universe, which took place “in the beginning” prior to the seven-day creation week of Genesis 1:3 to 2:3.
For emphasis it should be repeated that this still strongly implies creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing; God is not indebted to pre-existing matter. Also, to repeat: the whole universe was not created in six days, as some ardent conservative creationists have mistakenly claimed. Furthermore, if the passive-gap (two-stage creation) interpretation is correct, then the creation of “the heavens and the earth” during the span of time termed “in the beginning,” encompassed the whole galactic universe, including the Planet Earth in its “unformed and unfilled” condition (Gen. 1:2).
“Heaven, earth, and sea” (Gen. 1:8–11; Ex. 20:11): the global habitats of our planet. By contrast to the spotlight in Genesis 1:1 (and again in the matching member of Genesis 2:4) using the term “the heavens and the earth,” in Genesis 1:2 the reference to “the earth” by itself (in fact, placing the noun “earth” in the emphatic position as the first word in the Hebrew clause) moves the focus of this verse and the rest of the chapter to this planet. The use of the terms “heavens,” “earth,” and “seas,” in Genesis 1:8 to 11 describes the basic threefold habitat of our planet: sky, land, and water. This threefold habitat was the object of God’s creative power during the six days of creation (1:3–31), as He filled these habitats with vegetation, birds, fish, land animals, and humans. At the conclusion of the six days of Creation, the narrator summarizes the creation of this threefold habitat by indicating that “thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished” (2:1). By adding the term “all the host of them,” the narrator makes clear that he is not employing the figure of speech that refers to the entire universe (as in Genesis 1:1; 2:4) but has reference to what was created during the six days of creation week (1:3–31).
Exodus 20:11 likewise refers back to this threefold term, stating that in six days God made “the heavens and earth and the sea”—the habitats of this planet, not the galactic universe. Thus, Genesis 1:1 (followed by 2:4) refers to God’s creation of the whole universe, while the remainder of Genesis 1 (summarized by Genesis 2:1) and Exodus 20:11 describe the creation of the three habitats of Planet Earth.
Sailhamer calls attention to the distinction between Genesis 1:1 (where the dual term “heavens and earth” refers to the entire universe) and the shift to this Earth in the remainder of Genesis 1. Unfortunately, however, he then goes astray when he suggests that the term “the earth” in Genesis 1:2 and throughout the account of the six-day creation (some 20 times in Genesis 1:2 to 2:1) and the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:11) be translated “the land,” and that it refers only to the localized promised land for Israel, and not to the whole planet’s land surface. Likewise, he strays when he maintains that the term “the heavens” in the Genesis 1 account of creation week refer only to the region above the localized promised land.
The context, replete with global (i.e., planet-wide) terms throughout Genesis 1, makes Sailhamer’s restricted interpretation of this chapter highly unlikely. It seems extremely arbitrary, and in fact virtually impossible, to limit the descriptions of creation week in Genesis 1:3 to 31 to the land between the Euphrates and the River of Egypt. How can the dividing of the light from the darkness (vs. 3) occur only in the promised land? How can the waters be divided from the waters (vs. 6) only over the land promised to Israel? How can the waters be gathered into one place called “seas” (vs. 10) in the promised land? How can the greater light rule the day and the lesser light the night only in a localized area? How can the birds fly across the sky (vs. 17) only above the promised land? How can the creation of the sea creatures be for the localized area of the future boundaries of Israel? How can the command given to humans to “fill the earth” and their charge to have dominion over “all the earth” be limited only to one localized area? All of this language is clearly global, not just limited to a small geographical area.
That the language of creation in Genesis 1:3 to 31 is global in extent is confirmed in succeeding chapters to Genesis 11. The trajectory of major themes throughout Genesis 1 through 11—Creation, Fall, plan of salvation, spread of sin, judgment by Flood, God’s covenant with the earth—are all global in their scope. Elsewhere has been shown the many occurrences of global terms in the Flood narrative, including several intertextual linkages with Genesis 1. Moreover, after the Flood, the precise command given to Adam is repeated to Noah: “‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (Gen. 9:1). Noah was not even in the Promised Land when this command was given, and the following chapter of the Table of Nations (Genesis 10) indicates that this command was to be fulfilled globally, not just in a localized area (see especially verse 32, “the nations were divided on the earthafter the flood,” italics supplied). This global language continues in Genesis 11, where the “whole earth” involves all the languages of the Earth (vss. 8, 9). There can be little doubt that throughout Genesis 1 to 11 these references, and many others, involve global, not localized language, and the creation of “the earth” in Genesis 1:3 to 31 must perforce also be global in extent.
This conclusion is also substantiated by comparing the creation account of Genesis 1 to its parallel creation account in Proverbs 8:22 to 31. References to “the earth” in Proverbs 8:23, 26, 29 (ESV) are in context clearly global in extent (e.g., “foundations of the earth,” vs. 29), and this is further demonstrated by the parallelism between “the earth” and the clearly global term “world” in verse 26. Thus, Sailhamer’s suggestion is unacceptable that “the earth” and “the heavens” should be translated “land” and “sky” in Genesis 1:2 and onward and refer to less than a global creation.
The Two Creation Accounts in Genesis 1 and 2: Identical, Contradictory, or Complementary? Sailhamer has also mistakenly identified the global creation week of Genesis 1 with the creation of the localized Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:4 and onward. Contra Sailhamer, it should be recognized that in the complementary creation account of Genesis 2:4 to 25, the introductory “not yet” verses (5 and 6) continue the global usage of “the earth” of the Genesis 1 account, in describing the four things that had not yet appeared on the surface of the planet before the entrance of sin (thorns, agriculture, cultivation/irrigation, and rain). But then Genesis 2:7, describing the creation of the man, gives the time frame of the Genesis 2 creation account, i.e., corresponding with the sixth day of the creation week of Genesis 1. The rest of Genesis 2 depicts in more detail the activities of God on the sixth day of creation week and is largely localized within the Garden of Eden.
Others have gone to the opposite extreme from Sailhamer and have posited that the first two chapters of Genesis present radically different and contradictory accounts, and that Genesis 2 recapitulates all (or most) of creation week, rather than only day six. Such a position often betrays a belief in the Documentary Hypothesis (source criticism) and two different redactors at work in the two accounts. Jacques Doukhan’s dissertation and William Shea’s literary analysis, among other important studies, provide evidence that Genesis 1 and 2 are the product of a single writer, and present complementary theological perspectives on the creation of this world, with Genesis 1 providing a portrayal of the global creation as such, and Genesis 2 focusing attention on humanity’s personal needs. Several recent studies discuss in detail alleged contradictions between the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 creation accounts, and show how the supposed contradictions actually constitute complementarity in presenting a unified and integrated portrayal of creation.
As referred to earlier, the four things mentioned as “not yet” in Genesis 2:4 and 5 are not in contradiction with Genesis 1, but simply list those things that had not yet appeared on the surface of the planet before the entrance of sin (thorny plants, agriculture, cultivation/irrigation, and rain). Randall Younker points out that all these items are mentioned in anticipation of Genesis 3, when after the Fall such items will come into the picture of human reality.37 Note that neither of the expressions “plant of the field” nor “herb of the field” used in Genesis 2:5 is found in Genesis 1, while the phrase “herb of the field” appears in Genesis 3:18, thus, linking it to after the Fall and referring to cultivated agricultural products eaten by humans as a result of their laborious toil.
Another (and perhaps the major) alleged contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2 is the apparent difference in the order of creation between the two accounts. In Genesis 1 the order is: vegetation (day three), birds (day five), animals (day six), and then humans, male and female (day six). Genesis 2 appears to give a different order: man (vs. 7), vegetation (vss. 8, 9), animals and birds (vss. 19, 20), and woman (vss. 21, 22). The two main issues here relate to (1) the different order for the vegetation and (2) the different order for the animals and birds. The apparent contradiction regarding the vegetation disappears when it is recognized that Genesis 1:11 and 12 describes how in response to God’s creative word the Earth “brought forth” vegetation, including the fruit trees, while in Genesis 2:8, 9, God “planted” a special garden, and out of the ground “caused to grow” additional specimens of various kinds of fruit trees that He had already created on day three of creation week.
At least two possible explanations have been suggested for the apparent contradiction regarding the order of the creation of the birds and animals. The first is simply to translate the form of “formed” as “had formed”: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them” (Gen. 2:19, NIV). This is a legitimate translation of the Hebrew inflection, which refers to completed action but may be translated according to context. With this translation Genesis 2:19 is supplying necessary information to tell the story of the naming of the animals, and at the same time implying that the creation of the animals had taken place at an earlier time, but without giving precise chronological order of this creation.
Another possible explanation for the different order of animals and birds is set forth by Umberto Cassuto, who suggests that, like the planting of the special trees in the Garden of Eden on day six (apart from the general creation of vegetation on day three), according to Genesis 2:19, God is involved in a special additional creation of animals and birds beyond what was created earlier on the fifth and sixth days. However, because of the fivefold use of the term “all/every” in Genesis 2:19 and 20 (“all the beasts . . . all the birds,” NIV), the former explanation is preferable to the latter.
Light, the Greater and Lesser Lights, and the Stars. On the first day of Creation God said, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). He named the light “Day” and darkness “Night” (1:5). However, on the fourth day of creation week, God ordered into existence “lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth . . . to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness” (1:15, 18). What was the source of the light that illumined our planet before the fourth day?
One possibility is that God’s presence was the source of light on the first day of Creation. This is already hinted at in the literary linkage between Genesis 1:4 and Genesis 1:18. In verse 4 God Himself is the One who “divided the light from the darkness”; while in verse 18, it is the luminaries that are “to divide the light from the darkness.” By juxtaposing these two clauses with exactly the same Hebrew words and word order, the reader is invited to conclude that God Himself was the light source of the first three days, performing the function that He gave to the Sun and Moon on the fourth day. Another implicit indicator of this interpretation is found in the intertextual linkage between Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, the latter being a stylized account of the creation story following the same order of description as in the creation week of Genesis 1. In the section of Psalm 104 paralleling the first day of Creation (vs. 2), God is depicted as covering Himself “with light as with a garment,” thus, implying that God is the light source of the first days of creation week. During the first three days, God Himself could have separated the light from the darkness, just as He did at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:19, 20). God Himself being the light source for the first part of the week emphasizes the theocentric (God-centered), not heliocentric (sun-centered) nature of creation, and thus, God anticipates any temptation to worship the sun or moon that might have been encouraged if the luminaries were the first object created during the creation week.
A second option suggests that the Sun was created before the fourth day, but became visible on that day (perhaps as a vapor cover was removed). This would explain the evening/morning cycle before day four. John Sailhamer correctly points out that the Hebrew syntax of Genesis 1:14 is different from the syntactical pattern of the other days of Creation, in that it contains the verb “to be” plus the infinitive, whereas other days have only the verb without the infinitive. Thus, he suggests that verse 14 should read, “Let the lights in the expanse be for separating” (not as usually translated, “Let there be lights in the expanse”). Such a subtle but important syntactical shift may imply, Sailhamer suggests, that the lights were already in existence before the fourth day. The “greater” and “lesser” lights could have been created “in the beginning” (before creation week, verse 1) and not on the fourth day. On the fourth day, they were given a purpose, “to separate the day from the night” and “to mark seasons and days and years.”
Sailhamer’s suggestion does rightly call attention to a possible difference of syntactical nuancing with regard to the wording of the fourth day, but is not without its own difficulties. Most serious is that Sailhamer views verse 16 as not part of the report of Creation, but as commentary pointing out that it was God (and not anyone else) who had made the lights and put them in the sky. This objection may be overcome if one accepts a variant of this view in which verse 16 is indeed part of the report and not just commentary. According to this variant, the Sun and Moon were created before creation week (vs. 1), as Sailhamer suggests, but (unlike Sailhamer’s view) they were created in their “unformed” and “unfilled” state as was the Earth, and on the fourth day were further “made” into their fully functional state (vs. 16).
What about the stars? Were they created on the fourth day, or before? In the second option mentioned above, the Hebrew syntax of Genesis 1:14 may indicate that the Sun and Moon were already in existence before the fourth day, and thus, could have been created “in the beginning” (before creation week, verse 1). The same could also be true of the stars. Furthermore, the syntax of Genesis 1:16 doesn’t require the creation of the stars on day four, and in fact by not assigning any function to the stars such as given to the sun and moon, they may be seen as a parenthetical statement added on in this verse to complete the portrayal of the heavenly bodies—”he made the stars also”—without indicating when.
Colin House has argued that in Genesis 1:16 the stars are presupposed as already in existence before creation week, and that this is indicated by the use of the Hebrew participle that he finds throughout Genesis to mean “together with.” Thus, the Hebrew of Genesis 1:16 should read: “The lesser light to rule the night together with the stars.”38 As noted above, several passages of Scripture suggest that celestial bodies and intelligent beings were created before life was brought into existence on this planet (Job 38:7; Eze. 28:15; 1 Cor. 4:9; Rev. 12:7–9), and this would correlate with the implications that emerge from Genesis 1:16.
Death/predation before sin? Do the Genesis creation accounts allow for the possibility that death/predation existed on Planet Earth before the Fall and the entrance of sin described in Genesis 3? The active-gap (or ruin-restoration) theory discussed under the “when” of creation above allows for long ages of predation and death before the creation week described in Genesis 1:3 to 31 but cannot be grammatically sustained from the Hebrew text. Genesis 1:2 simply cannot be translated, “The earth became without form and empty.” As seen above, the text favors a “passive-gap” in which God created the universe (“the heavens and the earth”) “in the beginning” before creation week (Gen. 1:1); and the Earth at this time was “unformed”–”unfilled” and “darkness was on the face of the deep.” But such description does not imply a negative condition of “chaos,” as has often been claimed, only that creation was not yet complete. Furthermore, the terms unformed and unfilled in Genesis 1:2 imply a sterile, uninhabited waste, with no life, including birds, animals, or vegetation. So not only is there no death on this world before creation week, there is no life! Genesis 1:1 and 2 thus makes no room for living organisms to be present upon Planet Earth before creation week, let alone death and predation.
According to Genesis 1 and 2, death is not part of the original condition or divine plan for this world. Jacques Doukhan’s insightful discussion of death in relation to the first two chapters of Genesis reveals at least three indicators that support this conclusion.39 First, at each stage of creation, the divine work is pronounced “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 18, 21, 25), and at the last stage it is pronounced “very good” (vs. 31). Humanity’s relationship with nature is described in positive terms of “dominion,” which is a covenant term without a nuance of abuse or cruelty. The text explicitly suggests that animal or human death and suffering are not a part of the original creation situation, as it indicates the diet prescribed for both humans and animals to be the products of plants, not animals (vss. 28–30). This peaceful harmony is also evident in Genesis 2, in which animals are brought by God to the man to be named by him, thus, implying companionship (albeit incomplete and inadequate) of the animals with humans (2:18).
A second indicator that death is not part of the picture in Genesis 1 and 2 is the statement in Genesis 2:4 to 6 that at the time of creation, the world was “not yet” affected by anything not good. Younker has shown that the four things that were “not yet” in these verses were all situations that came into the world as a result of sin: “(1) the need to deal with thorny plants, (2) the annual uncertainty and hard work of the grain crop, (3) the need to undertake the physically demanding plowing of the ground, and (4) the dependence on the uncertain, but essential life-giving rain.”40
Doukhan points to a number of other terms in the Genesis creation narratives that constitute the use of a descriptive word in anticipation of its being applicable, showing what is “not yet” but will come. Allusions to death and evil, which is “not yet,” may be found in the reference to “dust” (2:7; to which humans will return in death); the mention of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (vs. 17, in anticipation of the confrontation with and experiencing of evil); the human’s task to “guard” the garden (vs. 15, implying the risk of losing it); and the play on words between naked and cunning (vs. 25; 3:1).41 Though alluded to before they existed, negative “not good” conditions, including death, are “not yet.”
A third indicator that death was not prior to sin and part of the divine plan is that Genesis 3 portrays death as an accident, a surprise, which turns the original picture of peace and harmony (Genesis 1 and 2) into conflict. Within Genesis 3, after the Fall, all the harmonious relationships described in Genesis 1 and 2 are disrupted: between the man and himself (guilt, a recognition of “soul nakedness” that cannot be covered by externals; 3:7 to 10); between humans and God (fear; verse 10), between man and woman (blame/discord; verses 12, 13, 16, 17), between humans and animals (deceit, conflict; verses 1, 13, 15), and between humans and nature (decay; verses 17 to 19). Now death appears, immediately (as an animal must die to provide covering for the humans’ nakedness, verse 21), and irrevocably (for the humans who have sinned, verse 19). The upset of the ecological balance is directly attributed to the humans’ sin (vss. 17, 18). The blessing of Genesis 1 and 2 has become the curse (Gen. 3:14, 17).
Tryggve N. D. Mettinger points to the strong contrast regarding death before sin/guilt between the ancient Near East accounts of theodicy and the Eden narrative in Genesis 2 and 3: “What we have in Mesopotamia is a type of theodicy in which death is not the result of human guilt but is the way that the gods arranged human existence. . . . On the other hand, what we have in the Eden narrative is a theodicy that derives the anomic phenomena from human guilt. Death is not what God intended but is the result of human sin.”42
A number of commentators have pointed out that one of the major reasons for God’s judgment upon the antediluvian world with the Flood was the existence of violence on the Earth: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the Earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). This condition of the Earth, being “filled with violence” is repeated again in verse 13. The use of the term “violence” undoubtedly includes the presence of brutality and physical violence, and with its subject being “the earth” probably refers to the violent behavior of both humans and animals (note the post-Flood decrees that attempt to limit both human and animal violence [9:4–6]). Divine judgment upon the Earth for its violence implies that predation, which presupposes violence, and death, the all-too-frequent result of violence, were not part of the creation order.
Intertextual allusions to the first two chapters of Genesis later in the book confirm that death is an intruder, coming as a result of sin, and not occurring before the Fall. Doukhan points to the striking intertextual parallels between Genesis 1:28 to 30 and 9:1 to 4, where God repeats to Noah the same blessing as to Adam, using the same terms and in the same order. But after the Fall instead of peaceful dominion (as in creation) there will be fear and dread of humans by the animals, and instead of a vegetarian diet for both humans and animals (as in creation), humans are allowed to hunt and eat animals. The juxtaposing of these two passages reveals that the portrayal of conflict and death is not regarded as original in creation, but organically connected to humanity’s fall.
Perhaps the most instructive intertextual allusions to Genesis 1 and 2 occur in the Old Testament Hebrew prophets, and in the last prophet of the New Testament (in the Book of Revelation); these messengers of God were inspired to look beyond the present to a future time of salvation, pictured as a re-creation of the world as it was before the Fall. This portrait, drawn largely in the language of a return to the Edenic state, explicitly describes a (re)new(ed) creation of perfect harmony between humanity and nature, where once again predation and death will not exist: “‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’” (Isa. 11:6–9).
“He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 25:8).
“‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!’” (Hosea 13:14).
“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind’” (Isa. 65:17).
“‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘So shall your descendants and your name remain’” (Isa. 66:22).
“‘I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death’” (Rev. 1:18).
“Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14).
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. . . . ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev. 21:1, 4).
Several studies have carefully examined these and other relevant biblical passages, and concluded that “God created the world without the presence of death, pain, and suffering” and that “the ‘subjection to futility’ spoken of in Romans 8:19–21 began in Genesis 3 and not in Genesis 1.”43
Other aspects of the “what” of creation. There are numerous other issues related to the “what” of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 that have been dealt with elsewhere, or call for further attention in another venue, and can only be listed here. These include, among others:
● The “firmament/expanse.” The Hebrew word translated “firmament/expanse” in Genesis 1 does not refer to a “metallic, hemispherical vault,” as many have maintained, based upon what is now recognized as a mistranslation of the parallel ancient Near East creation story Enuma Elish, but is best translated as “expanse” in all of its usages, and has reference to the “sky” in Genesis 1. The mention of God’s placement of the “greater light” and the “lesser light” in the “firmament/expanse” does not betray a wholesale acceptance of ancient Near East cosmology on the part of the biblical writer, as often claimed. Rather, the account of Genesis 1 and 2 seems to provide a polemic against major parts of ancient Near East cosmology. The “waters above” refer to the upper atmospheric waters contained in the clouds.
● Creation “after its kind.” The phrase “after its kind” in Genesis 1 (vss. 11, 12, 21, 24, 25) does not imply a fixity of species (as Darwin and many others have claimed); rather, “refers to a ‘multiplicity’ of animals and denotes boundaries between basic kinds of animals, but is not linked directly to reproduction.”44
● Imago Dei (“Image of God”). Humankind is made in the image of God, after His likeness (Gen. 1:26, 27), which includes, among other considerations, the relational aspects of humanity as in the Godhead, the representation in humanity of the presence of God, and the resemblance of humans to God in both outward form and inward character.
● Equality of man and woman. The Genesis creation accounts (Genesis 1 and 2) present the equality of the man and woman without hierarchy before the Fall, and present this as the ideal even in a sinful world.
● Marriage. The Genesis creation accounts present a succinct theology of marriage (concentrated in the three expressions “leave,” “cleave,” “become one flesh” in Genesis 2:24).
● Earth’s first sanctuary. The Garden of Eden is portrayed as a sanctuary-temple, with Adam and Eve as the priestly officiants.
● Creation care. A robust theology of creation care (environmental concerns) emerges from a careful study of Genesis 1 and 2.
● The Sabbath. The Sabbath is set forth in Genesis 2:1 to 3 as a holy institution rooted in, and memorial of, the six-day Creation.
The remainder of Scripture takes up these and other creation-related themes. This profound theology of creation at the beginning of the Bible, developed throughout the biblical canon, calls for us, God’s creatures, to praise and worship Him for His wondrous creative works: “Praise the Lord . . . who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ps. 146:1, 6); “‘worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water’” (Rev. 14:7)!
Richard M. Davidson, Ph.D., is the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
NOTES AND REFERENCES