God; Creation Words; Pagan Cosmogonies
There are different views as to when God created the angels. 1) God creates the angels before Genesis 1:1; 2) God created the angels between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, 3) God created the angels on day 3, and this is usually argued for on the basis of the analogy that is found in the Scriptures where the angels are spoken of metaphorically as the stars of heaven, e.g., Job 38:7. Then you would not have the angelic conflict or the fall of Satan until after Genesis 2:3. The first view, that the angels were created before Genesis 1:1, is preferable.
In Genesis 1:1, the next word we look at is “God,” even though this is the third word in the Hebrew text. What do we mean by the term “God”? People think that they can just generate out of their own mind, their own frame of reference, who God is. It is all personal opinion, and it is very rare to find someone who will stop and say, “The Bible says that God is this way … God has revealed Himself to be a God who is righteous and holy and just, who is sovereign, love, eternal,” etc. We live in an era today when people think that they can figure out spirituality just from generating it up from their own subjective impressions, and that is true about the meaning for God. There are all kinds of views of God so we have to address the question as to what this means.
What we see in Genesis 1:1 is that God is the creator of everything. The word that is used is the Hebrew word Elohim. There are a number of Hebrew words for God and Elohim is a sort of generic term for God. The im suffix is plural, and the reason it has been said that this is not translated “Gods” is that this is the plural of majesty. But there is a disagreement with this because there is a tendency among scholars to go too far overboard and say you can’t find the Trinity in the Old Testament, so don’t go to the plurality of God’s name. The reason that is a problem is the way Elohim is actually used in the context of Genesis chapter one. For example, in verse 26 there is not only the noun Elohim which, if it was a plural of majesty would always be dealt with in terms of the verbs and pronouns as a singular. But we have “And Elohim said,” in v. 26, “let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”; so the plural pronoun that is used in v. 26 mitigates against the argument that this is simply a plural of majesty. The plural of Elohim would include the concept of at least a plurality in the Godhead. It doesn’t teach the Trinity in and of itself, it just contains within itself the idea of a plurality in the Godhead. So we have just the statement that God creates.
But we know from later revelation that God exists as a Trinity, and we know from subsequent revelation that all three members of the Trinity are involved in creation. There are different roles within the Godhead. They are not subordinate to one another in terms of essence, they are equally God, but they are subordinate in terms of role function. God the Father is viewed as the architect, the planner. The Son is the contractor, as it were, the one who is more immediately involved in the construction of the universe. Then the Holy Spirit is the one who is involved in renewal and renovation. Colossians 1:16; John 1:3. The unique characteristic of God against all other gods is His act of creation. It is this act of creation (ex nihilo, out of nothing) that is the defining event in all history for revealing who God is. This almost beyond anything else distinguishes God from everything else in history.
In Revelation chapter five John takes us into the throne room of God and describes what he sees in the heavens. In 5:9 we see the emphasis on redemption. However, what precedes this? In 4:11, before we come to a praise of the Son for His act of redemption, first we have praise for God for His act of creation. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” So it is in the presence of God that the angels praise Him continuously because He created all things. So to learn who God really is we must abandon pagan deceptions that surround creation. That is not an easy thing to do because all thought systems in human history have some sort of pagan notion about who God is and what He is like, and the whole concept of Scripture is to completely renovate our thinking. So as we go to the end of the Bible we see that even in Revelation there is an emphasis on creation.
This comes through even at the very end of Revelation. Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” Then in v. 4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Can verse 4 be understood if Genesis chapter three and the fall of man is not understood? It becomes meaningless. And not only that. If God created the heavens and the earth through some sort of long-term evolutionary process, then there are real problems interpreting the immediate creation of a new heavens and a new earth when it comes to Revelation 21:1. You have to have a consistent system of hermeneutics or interpretation through the Scriptures. In verse 1 we read that the first creation was removed. 2 Peter describes it, it burns up in some sort of nuclear explosion. And God creates instantly a new heavens and a new earth for the habitation of believers throughout all eternity. So if we don’t believe there was an instantaneous creation in Genesis 1:1 then we have no reason to believe that there is an instantaneous creation of a new heavens and earth in Revelation 21.
The issue in Genesis and in origins is such that if you tweak with it, twist it out of line, it is going to destroy soteriology. As we will see, evolution is really an attack, a subtle but damaging attack, on the cross and the need for a savior to go to the cross and die for man. There are further implications in Revelation 22:1, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Notice that there is a river that flows out of the throne of God in the new earth and in the New Jerusalem. Then v. 3, “And there shall be no more curse.” How can you understand v. 3 if you don’t understand Genesis 3? If Genesis 3 isn’t literal, then how can Revelation 22 be understood in a literal sense?
The next word we come to in Genesis 1:1 is the verb “created.” This is in the qal stem, almost compared to the indicative mood in Greek. We have the qal stem of bara, and this verb is used about 50 times in the Old Testament. Every time it is used in the qal stem only God is the subject of the verb. Man never bara’s; only God bara’s. So bara is a word that emphasizes divine creation. There has been a claim that bara had the idea of ex nihilo creation inherent in the meaning of the word. But that is not true. Ex nihilo is Latin for “out of nothing.” In other words, two seconds before Genesis 1:1 nothing existed except God and the angels. God created the angels out of nothing; He created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. The word bara is used in Isaiah chapter 43:1, “But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” God is talking to the nation of Israel, calling them Jacob. The word “created” there is the Hebrew bara. Was Israel created out of nothing? No, they were created from already existing materials. Abraham came along through the normal process of procreation. The reason we can say that this has the idea of “out of nothing” is not because of the core meaning of bara is “out of nothing,” it simply emphasizes the uniqueness and the creation of something by divine command. What bara emphasizes is just this uniqueness of God. Other passages in the context of Genesis make it clear that this is out of nothing. For example, Hebrews 11:3, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” So that is ex nihilo creation. We also have the fact that in Genesis 1:1, “God creates the heavens and the earth,” indicates that there was nothing there before He created them.
There are three other words we need to pay attention to when we talk about creation. Bara is the first word. The second word is asah, found in Genesis 1:26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image.” The word for “make” is asah, usually translated “do, make,” sometimes “create,” and it is a more generic term for the act of making, fashioning, shaping, creating something. It is used in some passages as a synonym for bara, but a point to be made is that when it is used as a synonym for bara it is the more technical bara that defines the meaning of asah, and there are too many scholars who want to destroy the significance of bara by coming along and going from asah and saying it is a general word, don’t make such a big deal out of bara, it is used in parallel with asah in these passages, so it is not a big deal. No, the technicality of bara restricts the meaning of the broader word. And that is always true in any kind of poetry; that if you are paralleling two words and one word is more precise than the other word that restricts the field of meaning of the more general word. So asah is the more general word used for create. Then in versed 27, “So God created [bara] man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” This indicates that man was uniquely created by God. In Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground,” is the mechanics. Here we have our third word for creation, yatser, which has the idea of molding, fashioning, or shaping. This would be the word a potter would use for shaping a clay vessel, so it is a particularly appropriate word for the construction or formation of the male physical body; “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The biological life is yatser, the soul life is bara, and together the entire process is referred to as creation, asah. A fourth word is banah, which means to build. When the woman was made, she was “built,” banah.
Questions that are raised.
a) Isn’t Genesis one “myth” compatible to other ancient legends and mythologies?
b) Could there be millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and couldn’t this be the time frame for historical geology, all the ages of the dinosaur, and take all of evolution and just basically dump it into this Genesis 1:1-1:2?
c) How long are the days? Are these really 24-hour days, and must we understand them to be 24-hour days? Or could they be seven long periods of time?
d) Could God have used evolution as a mechanism for creation?
In order to answer the first question we should look at one of the other legends that was popular at the time. The one that was most well known is one that was discovered between 1848 and 1876, and is a Canaanite creation story, so it is right in the context of the land of Israel. It was in King Ashur-bani-pal’s library in Nineveh. The library dates form about 668-630 BC, and the foremost expert on this document was Dr Alexander Hydell, and this is how he describes the story: “ … is the principal source of our knowledge of Mesopotamian cosmology. Yet, it is not primarily a creation story at all, its prime objective is to offer cosmological reasons for Marduk’s advancement from the position as chief god of Babylon to that of the head of the entire Babylonian pantheon.” In other words, this is really a political move and a coup takeover by a secondary god, Marduk, who is the god for Babylon, who is going to take over all the gods. This is just a justification for Babylonian ascendancy. This story has a real epic tone to it. Whenever you have something of epic proportions it always drives you back to origins. Origins and the beginnings are always brought in to some degree. In the beginning the heaven and the earth wasn’t named; there was just the presence of water. The chaotic sea was personified. There was the presence of water, three deities, and the use of the heaven and the earth, formlessness and chaos. Everything begins with chaos but there is something that is there. There is matter and chaos already there. There is violence where one of the gods is split in half. Half becomes the heavens and half becomes the earth. Notice the parallelism with modern evolution. It starts with existing matter; we don’t know where it came from. It is in a chaotic state. It is from matter that everything is created, and somehow order is brought to bear.
Notice the difference between that and the simplicity of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So you just can’t come along and claim that the Bible just fits into the milieu of ancient pagan cosmogonies, it is radically different.