Beginnings, Origins, and Creation
Genesis 1:1 “ In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The Bible begins with a clear assertion of not only the existence of God, which is not argued for at all, it is just stated, but with the clear statement that God has created everything in the universe and that God is completely distinct from everything in the universe. Sometimes we—Christians who have been in a church context, studying the Word for much of our lives—take this a little bit for granted. Sometimes we are so familiar with what is stated here that we miss the impact. We often forget the resounding impact of this first verse in Genesis and the impact it had at the time Moses wrote. As Christians we sometimes think that this is something people always believed. It is not. This was a minority position when Moses wrote it. It was just as much fought against during the Old Testament by the pagan cultures surrounding Israel, the truth of Genesis 1:1 was resisted by many in Israel, it was resisted by those the apostle Paul preached to in his missionary journeys, it was just as controversial when Paul went to Thessalonica, Berea and Athens as it is today. We need to remember that what is taught in Genesis chapter one in terms of a creation emphasizing a distinct creator was as revolutionary and controversial in that day as it is today. No culture held that view, they all held other views that are not too different from modern Darwinistic or evolutionary views.
Why is it that we study the doctrine of origins? First of all the origination of anything is directly related to its purpose or its meaning. In divine viewpoint Scripture teaches that God intentionally planned and executed the creation of mankind. God is a God or order, a God of reason; He does things with purpose. Therefore mankind was created for a purpose. This means that the life of every human being has meaning and purpose and value which is derived from the creator and defined by the creator. It is the creator who defines who and what we are and the purpose and meaning of life. In contrast to divine viewpoint, human viewpoint, whether we are talking about some religious system or some philosophical system, life is always the product of time plus chance. In human viewpoint, since life is the product of time plus chance, the only meaning that man can have is derived from either, a) society—what society, culture, country assigns the meaning to be. When society determines the value and meaning of the purpose, that gets into a generally Marxist philosophy of history; or, b) the individual. This fits into more of an existential framework. The only meaning that I have is the meaning I create. So in pure existentialism when there is no meaning and purpose in life, except what you create, then you have to do something significant in order to give meaning to your life. Since there is no ultimate reality, no ultimate absolute, there is no such thing as a right or wrong, so it doesn’t matter whether you commit genocide or whether you help somebody—some tremendous altruistic endeavor, it doesn’t matter which it is—either one validates your existence and gives it meaning. There is no basis for judging whether one is right or wrong. So life gains its meaning either from society or from the individual assigning meaning to himself, or there is just no meaning at all—the position of the nihilist. A fourth view would say that the only meaning that man has is derived from what it produces, and that would be a utilitarian meaning. So in human viewpoint there is no inherent meaning, it just comes from whatever else something in the creation assigns to the individual. The Bible says that we come from God; He created us in His image, so that gives us a meaning and purpose and defines our purpose and our meaning.
Secondly, origins provides the foundation for society, life, law, civilization and institutions. Whatever the society is, whatever the religious beliefs, the view held of origins is what will determine the nature of society, the meaning of life, the foundation for all ethical decisions, and thus it is the foundation for law and legal theory, the foundation for that civilization and for all the institutions in that civilization. So origins defines everything in life from education and government to health care. Whatever it is, at some point it always goes back to the view of origins. Ps. 11:3, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” In this psalm the psalmist recognizes the importance of the foundation or origins.
Origins are the Archimedian fulcrum. On origins everything else in society moves, no matter what it is. For example, if you change your view of origins you change your view of ethics. If everything is flux and evolution is change and everything is going through a process of change and movement, then there are no absolutes. Apply that to law: If you have a creationist, absolutist mentality when you go to the Constitution, the Constitution has an absolute meaning. But if you have an evolutionary framework and you apply that to law, then the Constitution is a “living-breathing document” that is reinterpreted for every generation. That comes out of an evolutionary view of reality. So creation gives us a basis for saying that outside of the world there is an objective point of reference on which everything turns. If you have an objective point of reference that is outside the universe, as it were, then you have a basis for saying that something is absolute truth versus absolute falsehood, that you have a basis for saying that something is absolutely right versus absolutely wrong. But if there is no external fulcrum point then you end up with nothing more than relativism and all judgments become simply a matter of opinion, which is then enforced by might as opposed to right.
Whatever you choose as the basis for origins defines ultimate reality. So if you decide that the universe is the result of a big bang, that everything comes out of matter and energy, then matter and energy can’t produce anything other than matter and energy, so ultimate reality means that everything is material—so we end up worshiping that which is material, and you produce a materialistic society because that which is spiritual doesn’t exist and has no value. And if you live in an ancient world where you believe that ultimate reality was a watery chaos, governed by gods that personified the forces of nature, you end up worshiping the forces of nature. So whatever you ground your ultimate metaphysic [beyond the physical or that which is observable] in that becomes ultimate reality. So whatever you choose as the basis for origins defines for you ultimate reality, and then that ultimate reality always becomes the ultimate object of worship for mankind.
The use of creation in Scripture
Some people get the idea that creation is just a controversial subject: let’s not get into that if we get involved in a little witnessing to somebody and they bring up the idea of creation or evolution, so just step around that and focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel. Otherwise they may turn off to the gospel. But that reflects so many falsehoods. If somebody is positive they are going to respond to the gospel. The idea is based on a false assumption. The gospel itself is the story of the God of creation, the God who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, redeeming His creation. It emphasizes through the New Testament in passages like Colossians 1:16, 17 that the Jesus who saved us is the Jesus who made us. In Him and by Him and through Him were all things made. John 1:3 says there was nothing made that came into being apart from Him. So you can’t hold to a biblical Jesus if that Jesus didn’t create everything from nothing.
Second, this idea that creation is somehow just too controversial, don’t muddy the water with it, is based on a false assumption that it hasn’t always been controversial. But creation has always been controversial. If we decide to just step around creation and think it is not important in witnessing we should pay attention to how the apostle Paul spoke to Gentile pagan audiences who had no frame of reference in the Scripture, who were committed to another position of origins. Acts 14:8ff, “And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: the same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.”
Notice the people’s reaction. Paul performs these miracles and he has proclaimed the gospel, and the people completely misunderstand what he has said. It frequently happens that when we are trying to communicate the gospel or divine viewpoint to someone with no frame of reference, to someone operating on pure human viewpoint, they completely misunderstand. Paul is clearly misunderstood and their response in v. 11 is “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” What has happened is that they have taken the truth and completely reinterpreted it. They didn’t think about it, it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing. This is how human viewpoint works, it just reinterprets truth into its own framework no matter how clear and objective it was. No matter how clear and precise Paul’s teaching was they interpreted it in their own frame of reference, their own presuppositions.
And look at how Paul handles this. Verses 14 & 15, “Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” First he challenges them by saying “We are of the same nature as you are.” He challenges their assumption of creating gods in their own image. The second challenge is to turn, the idea of genuine repentance, i.e. to change their thinking. When Paul says to change their thinking he is not simply talking about changing their thinking about Jesus. Notice that he is talking about the fact that when Christianity comes it is going to overhaul everything. People think that if the Holy Spirit is going to show up and overhaul your life it is like calling in the interior decorator and they are going to put up new curtains, hardwood floors instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, paint the room a different color, etc. But what happens is that when the Holy Spirit is the interior decorator He comes in with the bulldozer because He is going to take down the whole structure and move the foundation. And what Paul is challenging here is their foundation; that their foundation was off. It happens so often in evangelism that people are urged to trust Jesus, but Jesus is not identified as to who He is or what He is saving them from, all of which presupposes an understanding of Genesis 1-3, and the end is that there are people running around thinking they are saved because they trust Jesus. But their Jesus is a funny looking Jesus, and these people aren’t even sure they believe in a God who created everything. And the Jesus of the New Testament is the eternal second person of the Trinity who exists in hypostatic union, who became flesh and dwelt among us, and He is the creator of all things. When John starts off identifying who Jesus is in John 1:1-3 he identifies Him as the creator of everything that is, and that nothing that has come into being has done so except by Jesus. So if you are communicating a Jesus who isn’t the creator of the universe then you are not communicating the Jesus of the New Testament.
So Paul says they have to turn from these “vain things.” The “vain things” indicates their entire religious superstructure and foundation to a living God who is defined as a creator, the one who made the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them. So Paul does not back away from putting creation and a controversial creator God right out there in front. And notice, he is witnessing, and has he mentioned Jesus yet? He hasn’t mentioned Jesus or the cross or the sin, but the first thing he gets out there is the creation.
Note Acts 17. This is when Paul was on his second missionary journey. V.16, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” V. 22, “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious [very religious]. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands …” Notice Paul hasn’t talked about Jesus or the cross yet. He goes straight to creation. We need to ask what they believe about creation.
One of the ancient Greek poets was Orpheus. He believed, in terms of his expression of Greek ultimate realities, that the ultimate reality was time. There is no actual beginning, so this is an always-existing time. Time, remember, has dimensions to it. Time generates chaos. In modern parlance we might call chaos pure chance. So we have time plus chance. That is exactly the formula of Darwinistic evolution. So the ancient Greeks began with time plus chaos [chance], and then chaos is an enormous space that contains night, mist, and the upper regions of the air which they called the ether. As chaos just generates this night/darkness, mist and ether it begins to swirl around, and all of these molecules get closer and closer and tighter and tighter together until it creates a definable mass that takes on the shape of a huge egg, that after it has congealed and solidified, then splits apart into two halves which become heaven and earth. In mythical terminology we have time plus chance creates a big bang out of which comes an orderly universe. Homer saw the earth pretty much the same way, except when the egg split apart the earth is surrounded then by water. So we can see that there are certain similarities and parallels to what we have in Genesis, but Genesis is profoundly distinct. The earth is flooded by the god Oceanis who personifies the ocean, and it is out of this ocean, then, that life begins—first the gods are generated, then all the other life on earth. So there is some sort of space-time-matter reality. That is exactly what you find in the beginning of the big bang. This is a mythological cosmogony. (Cosmogony is an explanation of ultimate origins)
Every religious or philosophical system has some sort of cosmogony or explanation of origins. In the mythological systems of the Greeks what we see is that the power of the cosmos—there is some kind of inherent generating power in the universe itself in the matter of the cosmos which generates itself—is personified. By the time of Paul there had passed the fifth century BC, the classical period, where the philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle debunked the whole mythology. After following Aristotle there was the development of the following of two major schools of thought: Epicurianism and Stoicism. Epicurius lived from 342 to 270 BC. He was a follower of Aristotle who died while Epicurius was a young man. He denied that there was any purpose in nature, so there is no meaning to anything in nature and everything therefore would be a product of chance and just random events. He believed that there were an infinite number of worlds and that there was no God. So the universe in itself is eternal and self-generating, and everything on earth evolved directly from the matter of earth itself. So he sounds fairly modern. It is pure random; there is no intelligence.
Today there is a big change taking place in science because there are certain people like Michael Beahey who wrote a book called Darwin’s Black Box. He doesn’t argue for creationism but he argues for intelligent design. He is a biochemist and he basically says there is too much information in the basic cell that Darwin had no idea about. There is too much information in a DNA chain for it to just happen randomly. Something had to put it there with intelligence. There has to be a source of intelligent design.
So the Epicurians that Paul is addressing are not any different from the evolutionists that we might meet today. Yet what is the first thing that comes out of Paul’s mouth? Creation! He recognizes that a Jesus who isn’t the creator isn’t the Jesus who is the redeemer.
It is the same with the Stoics. They emphasized the simple life, fatalism and a submission to circumstances, whatever they are, and they believed that the order of the world wasn’t evidence of a creator. But for them the creator is purely pantheistic. (Pantheism means that the creation = God; God is in everything) It basically deifies all of nature, which is really the ultimate metaphysic of all the environmentalists and environmentalism because they have elevated nature above and beyond that which God established.
Paul is not addressing an uneducated crowd but one that is the advocates and proponents of their worldview system. In contrast to this the Bible claims that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1,“In the beginning” gives us a time frame—bereshith [be, the preposition “in”; reshith, “beginning”]. “Beginning” is a definite noun, it is an inherently definite word in Hebrew, so it is not “a beginning,” it is in “the beginning,” a specific beginning. In other words, there was a time when the universe did not exist, when the universe was not. There are only two options. Either the universe is eternal or it is temporal; it has either always been here or it had a beginning in time. So the very first statement that the Scripture made is a slap in the face to every single cosmogony that was available on planet earth when Moses wrote it. The Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks all have an eternal cosmos, some sort of eternality in time, chaos, matter. The very first statement is Scripture says they are all wrong; there was a beginning. The universe is not eternal; it has boundaries; it was created by God.
The next assertion that God created the heavens and the earth means that God is distinct from creation. The term “heavens and the earth” is a phrase that must be taken collectively. Just as we would say “part and parcel” of something, “the heavens and the earth” was the Hebrew way of expressing the universe. There is no one-word concept in the Hebrew language for universe. So the term includes everything that is. Divine viewpoint says here that God is the starting point and is the place where we must start because is the creator; He defines everything. The starting point is not matter, not molecules, not gas or energy. In contrast, human viewpoint, no matter what the system, says that the universe (some form of matter, energy, hydrogen gas, or whatever) is the starting point, and everything in he universe, then, must find its ultimate meaning in this ultimate reality of pure matter or gas, or whatever it is. A third observation is that there is a beginning to the creation, which is located in time, and given enough data we can perhaps date this. We probably don’t have enough data but we can come up with certain conclusions in terms of answering the question, When did this happen?
The problem of dating Genesis 1:1
1) It could be billions of years, millions of years, or it could be just a few thousand years or few hundred years. There is nothing anywhere in the Bible to suggest that it is more than a few decades or a few hundred years. That may be a whole new idea to some because there has been this tendency to think it could be billions of years.
2) Where do we get this idea of billions of years anyway? Until the advent of evolutionary science—historical geology, Darwinism—based on a principle called uniformitarianism no one who believed the Bible held to long ages. The most famous chronological system was that of an Anglican bishop by the name of James Usher. He went through all the genealogies, added everything up, and said Genesis 1:1 occurred in 4004 BC. And, of course, so many people ridicule him today. However, Usher did not fall off the turnip or watermelon truck, he was one of the most brilliant men in his day. Not only was he brilliant but he did something that was not uncommon, and that was to use the numbers in the Scripture, accept them at face value and try to come up with a date for original creation. According to the Jewish calendar, creation occurred in 3760 BC. According to the numbers in the Septuagint it has a date of creation of around 5270 BC. (The Hebrew OT that our OT is based on is called the Massoretic Text. It was finalized and formalized in about the 9th century AD. We didn’t have anything older than that until they found the Dead Sea scrolls which were dated around the 2nd century BC. When they dug those up they found there were very few differences. But there are more differences in the LXX (Septuagint). Apparently the Hebrew MSS they had varied somewhat in some places from the Hebrew MSS that were accepted by Massoretes) Josephus had a date of 5555 BC. Johannes Kepler who was one of the founders of modern physics held to a creation date of 3993 BC. Note that there is a vast difference between a date for the creation of the universe of 3993 BC or 5555 BC and five billion years! Modern evolutionary chronology places the origin of man at 3-million years BC.
3) It is popular to ridicule this dating as pre-scientific, i.e. they just didn’t understand what we do about geology and our dating systems in geology are absolute. That is the assumption. It is not true. Usher lived between 1581 and 1656, from the time of the birth of modern science. One man who accepted his dates without question was Isaac Newton. He had a few aberrations in his theology, he was not a Trinitarian, but he wrote more about theology and the Bible than he did about science. Many of the early scientists were that way—very interested in Scripture, Bible-believing creationists, and they wrote more commentaries and more about theology than they did about science. Newton accepted Usher’s dates without question. In fact, Newton wrote a book called The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms where he amended and challenged the chronological schemes of the ancient Egyptians and said that they were wrong for setting the date of the first dynasty before 5000 BC, because he knew that the earth wasn’t that old. In fact, no educated man in the 17th or 18th century would think of the earth as being more than 6,000-7,000 years old because they accepted what the Bible said at face value. There are problems with dating and we need to identify these. There are some problems in the numbers between the Massoretic Text and the Septuagint and the Samaritan text, so we can’t be precise. But remember, these differences aren’t large. These differences make up something like 4, 5, 6, or 7-hundred years, they do not make up tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of years. Another problem is the contention that there are gaps in the genealogies in the Bible. The problem is that it is easy to look at some genealogies where it says that A begat B, and begat can cover a number of generations. There are gaps in some of the non-technical, non-specific genealogies, like in Matthew and Luke where we have these large gaps. But in other genealogies we have the precise information. There is a confusion with datings systems that come out of archaeology.
All dating systems used by archaeology presuppose an evolutionary, uniformitarian structure. What is uniformitarianism? Statement by Mark Ridley, an evolutionists: “All that is needed to prove evolution is observed microevolution added to the philosophical doctrine of uniformitarianism which underlies all science.” This word is recognized in all evolutionary literature as the key philosophical presupposition to all evolutionary thought. The Bible specifically defines uniformitarianism in 2 Peter 3:3-5, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In other words, everything continues at the same rate of decay. That is the idea of uniformitarianism, that you can measure the rate of decay—like carbon 14 or other elements in something and then extrapolate backward based on a uniform decay rate how long that has been there.
That is called The Clock, and they have different ways of measuring this, but if you can measure a decay rate over the last 150 years and you get a scientific formula that you can extrapolate back and work out how old something is. It is flawed in a number of ways: a) It is a gratuitous assumption that decay rates have been the same. With Noah’s flood you have the destruction of all decay rates and everything changes because of that catastrophe. But also, not everything gives the same decay rate. For example, if you measure the decay of the earth’s magnetic field, and there has been a specific decay rate over the last 200 years, and extrapolate backwards, then the age of the earth cannot be any older than 10,000 years. If you look at the influx of radiocarbon to the earth, the earth, again, cannot be more than 10,000 years old. If you measure the influx of meteoric dust from space, it is too little to calculate. If you measure the influx of sediment to the ocean through rivers then the age of the earth is 30 million years. If you measure the leaching of chlorine from the continents into the oceans, then it yields an age of only one-million years. If you measure the decay rate of carbon 14 and Precambrian wood, then the earth is 4,000 years old. If you measure the influx of lead to the ocean via rivers, then the earth is 2000 years old. If you measure the influx of aluminum to the ocean via rivers, then the earth is only a hundred years old. If you measure the influx of silver to the ocean via the rivers, the earth is 2.1 million years old. If you measure the influx of potassium to the ocean, then it is eleven million years old. If you measure the influx of titanium into the ocean, it is only one-hundred and sixty years old. If you measure the instability of the rings of Saturn, the solar system is one-million years old, but then if you measure the accumulation of dust on the moon, then it is only 200,000 years old. In other words, the whole methodology is flawed and the presupposition is flawed. So you can’t assume that dating systems have validity because they are grounded in philosophical presuppositions and assumptions that can’t be proven that are based on evolution. It is circular reasoning. Ultimately they presuppose the uniform process to prove the uniform process and the longevity of it.
The problem is that up until the early 19th century or late 18th century no one who studied the Bible at face value ever came up with the age of the earth and the creation of Genesis 1:1, even with the fall of Satan in there and everything else, of more than 10,000 years. What happened? When science, almighty science, came along on the basis of evolutionary and uniformitarian presuppositions and started saying that the earth was 20,000 or 50,000 years old, then they didn’t think that was a big enough number and tried to fit it in somehow. But it wouldn’t fit. What happened was that it went from 25,000 to 50,000 to 500,000, to 5 million, to 5 billion years, and it got out of control.
So when we look at Genesis 1:1, and even though there is a time lapse between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, there is no reason to just jump in and say it can mean millions or billions of years. The only reason people have introduced those big numbers is because evolutionary scientists came along and said everything has to be that way.