Genesis 1

By Bruce Gerig

Chapter 1: The Hebrew Text and the First Creation Account
Chapter 2: The Evolutionary View and Genesis 1
Chapter 3: Five Approaches to Reconciling Science and Genesis 1
Footnotes, References and Translations


The original Creation, and then a barren earth (Gen 1:1-2) – The Book of Genesis begins by revealing to the Israelites that the God of Abraham is also the Creator of the world, for “In the beginning God created [bara, #1254] the heavens and the earth.” (1:1, NIV). “[T]he heavens and the earth” here is a Hebrew merism (a figure of speech combining two opposites to express a totality), pointing to the whole observable “universe.”23 However, the first word here, beresit (NIV: “In the beginning”), has a strange form, which would normally be translated as “In the beginning of…” – except that “of what” is not specified.24 Therefore, some translators begin 1:1 with a dependent clause (including “When”/“when”), focusing the sentence on the description of the barren earth (1:2, NEB, LB, GNB) or later on God’s command, “Let there be light” (1:3, Speiser, Sarna).25 Most Hebrew scholars admit that all of these translations are possible.26 Yet, Umberto Cassuto argues that Gen 1:1 must be viewed both as an “independent sentence” and a “formal introduction” to the whole section, which states with “majestic brevity” that “in the remotest past,” at the beginning of time, God created the cosmos.27 What is really expressed here is “the absolute transcendence of God over his material world” (Childs).28 Therefore, most translations rightfully remain with the simple, profound declaration: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1, cf. KJV, NASB, JB, Von Rad, NIV, NKJV, REB, Sailhamer, CEV, NJB).29 The powerful verb bara means to “shape, create,” and it is always tied in the OT to Divine activity.30 Moreover, Gerhard von Rad writes that here it points to a complete effortlessness, as well as to God’s ability to create something out of nothing.31 Bara is used in the overall passage where God “created” the universe initially (1:1), then later relating to the great sea monsters (1:21) and to humankind (1:27, where the word appears 3 times), and finally in summarizing all of his creative work (2:3). However, another, similar word is also used, asa (#6213), which appears where God “made” the firmament (1:7), two great lights in the sky (1:16), the stars (1:16), land animals (1:25) and humankind (1:26), and then in summarizing all that he had made (1:31; 2:2,2,3). Obviously, some overlap can be seen here in the meaning and use of bara and asa, although the second word, as we shall see, is a more flexible one.

Then we read: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (1:2, NIV). We are surprised to find an earth that is tohu wa-bohu (“formless and empty”). This is a hendiadys (a figure of speech which includes two nouns connected by “and,” but with one term meant to reinforce the other32); therefore, this is better translated as “a formless void” (JB, NRSV, NJB) or “a vast waste” (REB). Like an unformed piece of marble sitting in a quarry, the planet waits for the Great Sculptor to come and transform it into something truly magnificent. An old Semitic version by Neophyti I paraphrases the Hebrew here, even more to the point, by explaining that it was “desolate without human beings or beast and void of all cultivation of plants and of trees.”33 Yet, ruak elohim (NIV: “the Spirit of God”) was moving over the surface of the waters. Ruak (#7307) can mean “wind,” “breath” or “spirit”34 – and elohim (#430) may be read either as a name for God or as an adjective expressing the superlative35 (e.g., rendered as “a mighty prince” in Gen 23:6, NRSV, italics added). “Wind” was the most popular choice in ancient and medieval Jewish sources;36 and it has also been more recently translated as “a mighty wind” (1:2, NEB), “an awesome wind” (Speiser),37 or “a divine wind” (NJB). It is interesting to note that the wind (ruak) appears as a Divine agent in the Flood, causing the water to subside (Gen 8:1), and in the Exodus, parting the Sea of Reeds (Exod 14:21).38 Most English translations render the phrase as “the Spirit [or ‘spirit’] of God” (KJV, RSV, NASB, cf. JB, NIV, REB, CEV, LB) – and this may be why ruak is mentioned here at all. Although H.M. Orlinsky has criticized this as a “christianizing” of the Hebrew text,39 plural pronouns (“us”/“our”) are applied to God on repeated occasions in Genesis, e.g. when God sets about to create the first humans (Gen 1:26), when he decides to expel Adam and Eve from the Garden (Gen 3:22), and when he comes to “confuse” the languages of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:5-8), who are trying by their own means to reach heaven. In summary, Gen 1:2 views the earth at this stage as a dark, restless global ocean – although God’s spirit hovers over it, waiting in anticipation.

Was there a time gap between Gen 1:1 and 1:2? – Although a time gap theory had been proposed by some earlier commentators, it was made popular in the mid nineteenth century through the writing of the Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847); and the idea became more wide-spread in the twentieth century through the Scofield Reference Bible (first ed. 1909).40 The general features of this theory were that God created a perfect world, and this earth then was turned over to Lucifer who conducted a Temple worship of God in a mineral Garden of Eden. However, after Satan grew arrogant and began to exalt himself as a god, Divine judgment was passed on him, on his angel followers and on the earth, which then lay desolate for millions of years. Some argued that the ugly dinosaur bones and other fossils dated back to this judgment and desolation. However, around 4000 B.C. God reappeared to recondition the earth in six literal 24-hour days.41 Evidence to support this view was drawn primarily from Ezekiel and Isaiah. In Ezekiel 28:11-19 the king of Tyre is described as “full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering… thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; … Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. … Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, [therefore] I will cast thee to the ground.” (28:12-15,17, KJV). Yet, the text then adds, “I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee” and “I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth…” (v. 17-18). So, is this really a reference to Satan? Actually “Eden” (v. 13) could refer to any beautiful garden, and “the garden of God [or: ‘of the gods’]” (v. 13) could point to that lush garden that typically stood in the center of every ancient Near Eastern temple. The “holy mountain of God [or: ‘of the god’]” (v. 16) is never used in the OT to refer to Heaven, but probably is also a Phoenician reference, to the home of their gods, thought to lie somewhere to the north.42 In Isaiah 14:3-21 the prophet says to the king of Babylon, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, … I will be like the Most High.” (14:12-14, KJV). Then the text says that his body will not lie in state nor be buried with his ancestors, as was custom (v. 18-20). As in Ezek 28, this is also a prophetic funeral lament leveled against a human tyrant who will be humbled and destroyed.43 Actually “O Lucifer [helil], son of the morning” (Isa 14:12, KJV) is better translated as “O Day Star, son of Dawn” (NRSV), because the Hebrew helil (#1966) simply means “morning star” and it points to the planet Venus, which swings west of the sun when it rises before dawn.44 “Lucifer” is Latin for “light-bringing morning-star,” which became only later a proper name applied to Satan, in Medieval times.45 In short, these passages were prophecies leveled against the kings of Tyre and Babylon, respectively; and most commentators now hold any proposed prehistoric applications to Satan must be considered to be highly speculative.

A much more revealing passage in this regards is Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7, where we find that Satan has access to both earth and to Heaven, where he freely comes with the other angels to converse with the Almighty. Also of interest is Jesus’ comment in Luke 10:18, made after his disciples returned from giving witness of the kingdom of God and reported to him that “even the demons submit to us!” (10:1-17, NRSV). Then Jesus replied: “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (v. 18). I.H. Marshall believes that here Jesus had a vision of Satan’s spiritual defeat which would take place at the Cross.46 L.E. Porter notes how this verse has been interpreted throughout Church history as pointing back to a cosmic fall of Satan in the remote past; yet the verb here in the imperfect tense with the aorist participle (Jesus “was watching” Satan, “fallen” from Heaven) place this event in Jesus’ own time.47 Could it be that Satan had a certain access to Heaven and to God in OT times, but this ceased after Jesus’ victory at Calvary? This subject also appears in Rev 12, where we read that a “war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [Satan]. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven,” so they were “thrown down to the earth” (12:7-9, NRSV). This whole passage is too complicated to discuss here in full, but it can be noted that the Greek word ouranos (#3772, “heaven”) may refer either to the “sky” or by extension to “heaven, the abode of God.”48 Joseph Seiss and Lehman Strauss hold that “heaven” in Rev 12:7 refers only to the atmospheric and stellar heavens; however, G.B. Caird and John Walvoord believe instead that it refers to Heaven itself.49 Whichever is the case (and I prefer the former), there is no Biblical evidence that Satan was banished from Heaven to earth sometime between Gen 1:1 and 1:2, and that this then brought with it a desolation of the earth. Still, apart from this, the idea of a time gap existing between Gen 1:1 and 1:2 remains a fascinating idea.

One day God appears, to begin refashioning the earth (Gen 1:3-5) – Suddenly a Divine word shatters the primeval silence and signals a rebirth for the earth. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” and called them “day” and “night.” “And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.” (NIV). Certain literary elements (with a few exceptions) are repeated throughout the description of the various ‘days’ – including: an Introduction (“And God said”), a Command (“Let there be…”/ “Let the water … be gathered,” etc.), an Execution (“And it was so”), an Evaluation (“And God saw that it was good”), and a Time (“There was evening, and there was morning, day – ”).50 Indeed, this gives a dramatic and poetic force to the Creation account. Still, this does not mean that Gen 1:1–2:4a has no literal meaning, as well – and the text contains many concrete pictorial words, like: “light,” “darkness,” “water,” “dry land,” “plants,” “trees,” “birds,” “great sea creatures,” and so on. Also, a literal view is reinforced by Ps 104, where the psalmist retells Gen 1 in a song. Of course, “God said” in Gen 1 may simply mean that the Almighty “thought” or “willed” something, and so it came to pass (Sarna).51

What is the meaning of yom (“day”) here? – It should be noted that yom (#3117), translated as “day” in English translations, is used with varying meanings in the OT; and this can be seen even in Gen chs. 1-2. For example, in Gen 1:5, where “God called the light day [yom] and the darkness night” (NASB), yom appears to refer to the more-or-less 12-hour period of light from sunrise to sunset. However, in Gen 2:17, where God says, “for in the day [yom] that you eat from it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall die” (NASB), this refers to a 24-hour calendar day. Yet, when Gen 2:4b says, “in the day [yom] that the Lord God made earth and heaven” (NASB), this would include the whole earlier creative period and process, lasting at least week, and surely longer. The latter is based on the observation that a 24-hour period applied to day 6 would not nearly be long enough to include all of the events that are described in Gen 1:24-30 and 2:7-25, between the creation of the land animals and the creation of Eve.52 First, God creates modern land animals (1:24-25), and then he forms Adam and breathes into him the breath of life (2:7). Then he places Adam in the Garden of Eden, telling him to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15, NASB). After Adam has had time to walk all around the Garden at least and explore it, he evidently becomes bored and so God brings before him all of the animals and birds, asking him to give names to all of the different kinds (2:19b-20a), which must have taken more time. Later, God sees that Adam is still lonely and so he puts him to sleep and forms Eve, whom he then presents to Adam as his companion, like him in bone and flesh (2:20b-23). Elsewhere in the OT, yom is applied to longer than 24-hour periods as well. Judg 11:4 tells us that “after some time [yom] the sons of Ammon fought with Israel” (lit., Green), which the KJV translates as “in the process of time…” Prov 25:13 speaks of “cold snow in a day [yom] of harvest…” (lit., Green), which is translated in the KJV as “…in the time of harvest.” In Jer 32:31 God says: “This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day [yom] it was built…” (NRSV) – although Jerusalem, like Rome, was never built in a (24-hour) day. In Isa 13:9ff the prophet declares that “the day [yom] of the Lord’ would come with “fierce anger, / to make the earth a desolation, / and to destroy its sinners from it…” (NRSV) – with prophecies following that point to the overthrow of Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, Arabia, Tyre (Isa 13-23), and then the whole world at the end of time (Isa 24). So, yom can refer to any “important division of time,” even to “epochs” of time.53

Yet, the vast majority of interpreters have read the ‘days’ in Gen 1 as referring to literal 24-hour days, including Martin Luther, Gerard von Rad, James Barr, Terence Fretheim and Victor Hamilton.54 However, some who hold this view then go on to interpret Gen 1:1–2:4a overall as symbolic or legendary. For example, S.H. Hooke suggested that Israel’s priests introduced the six-day scheme here, plus the addition of the seventh day, to shape Gen 1 as a “liturgy of creation” for use in their religious worship.55 Umberto Cassuto noted that in Akkadian and Ugaritic texts “a series of seven consecutive days was considered a perfect period (unit of time) in which to develop an important work” and he believed that this idea was carried over into Gen 1.56 In contrast, Bernard Ramm believed that “creation was revealed in six days, not performed in six days” – and so these were not literal days, but “pictorial-revelatory days” which Moses experienced.57 Besides this, some preeminent Christian geologists (J.W. Dawson, James Dana) in the 19th century held that each ‘day’ in Gen 1 should be viewed as representing a geological “stage” in the creative process.58 However, in the Ten Commandments Moses clearly refers to these ‘days’ as 24-hour days, when he wrote: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exod 20:11, NRSV) – and so they must also have been viewed by the ancient Israelites. Still, there are two problems here: (1) Such a calendar day could hardly be applied to ‘day 1,’ which began before ‘day’ and ‘night’ could be differentiated from the earthly vantage point assumed throughout Gen 1. (2) Also, ‘day 6’ requires more time than a single 24-hour period would allow.

What is the meaning of “And there was evening and there was morning…”? – This phrase, repeated with days 1-6, separates the creation account in Gen 1 into its main divisions; and the question of what it means exactly is probably a major key to correctly understanding ‘day’ and the whole passage. In Gen 1:5 we read (lit.): “And evening [#6153, ‘ereb, ‘dusk’] and morning [#1242, boker, ‘daybreak’] was, one day.” (Green). As translated in the KJV, “the evening and the morning were the first day” infers that God appeared at night to do his creative work!59 In fact, the wording here is peculiar and never appears again in the OT after Gen 1. One would expect a 24-hour day to be described as “from evening [‘ereb] to evening [‘ereb],” as is found in Lev 23:32, which demarcates a calendar day as extending from sunset to sunset, a viewpoint which came to govern the Jewish religious calendar.60 As Taylor Lewis suggests, “evening and morning” must refer instead to a period of rest and then to a period of creation.61 Nahum Sarna holds that this “evening” refers to a period of ‘suspended divine activity’ before the creative day.62 Rolland de Vaux calls it “a vacant time till morning,”63 and Umberto Cassuto the “last night” before God (re)appears.64 The focus, then, in the “evening and … morning” and each “day” is not on time length, but rather on God’s absence from the scene and then presence to do his creative work. In the end, these ‘days’ are critical junctures in God’s dynamic formation of his marvelous world for humankind. Moreover, there can be sensed an anticipation in this silence before God speaks in each case as dramatic as the moments in a concert hall before the conductor raises his baton to begin a great symphony or that exists in the grand pause right before the soaring end of the “Amen” chorus in Handel’s The Messiah. Therefore, a ‘day’ should be thought of here as simply a time when God appears to perform a new, pivotal creative work.

How are the various ‘days’ here referred to differently? – Equally important, it should be noted that the Hebrew in Gen 1 refers to these seven days in different ways: to “one day,”65 then to “[a] second day [etc.]for days 2-5, and then to “the sixth day” and “the seventh day.”66 “One day” God appears to begin a great, new creative work. Then, days 2-5, named without the definite article (“the”), which was customary in Hebrew referring to numbered days that immediately followed one another,67 points to these being succeeding but not successive days.68 “The sixth day” is especially important because it culminated in the creation of humankind, and “the seventh day” because God now “rested” from his creative work. He will later call his people to share in his rest, including the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) and also a future, final rest (Heb 3:7–4:13).69 This clearly opens up the door for viewing these ‘days’ as brief critical junctures in God’s creative activity which also may have initiated long periods of time during which the Divine commands came to fulfillment.

A second creative day (Gen 1:6-8)On “a second day” (NASB), “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse [raqia, #7549] between the waters to separate water from water’” – above and below – and “God called the expanse ‘sky’ [samayim, #8064].” (NIV). The waters above refer to clouds (Sailhamer)70 and the waters below to oceans (LB, Gen 1:6). Raqia (v. 6-7) has been variously translated as: “firmament” (KJV, RSV, Von Rad),71 “expanse” (NASB, NIV, Sarna),72 “vault” (JB, REB, NJB), and “dome” (GNB, NRSV, CEV). Franz Delitzsch held that this “firmament” referred to “the so-called atmosphere, the sky”73 – and the main idea here is that God began clearing the moisture and thick mist out of the center atmosphere. The basic meaning of the verb raqa, (#7554) is “to spread out,” like stretching (a tent) or hammering out (a piece of metal).74 However, Cassuto sees the image here as suggesting that once the ‘firmament’ (sky) was established, it began arching up like a vault, raising the upper waters with it.75 Hamilton suggests that the reason that the Divine evaluation “it was good” (cf. 1:10) is missing here from day 2 is because this action was viewed simply as a preliminary step for what was to follow: the appearance of dry land and plant life, on day 3.76

A third creative day (Gen 1:9-13)On “a third day” (NASB), “God said, ‘[L]et dry land appear,’” which he called “Earth” and the surrounding water he called “Seas.” Then “God said, ‘Let the earth sprout [dasha, #1876] tender sprouts [deshe, #1877], (the) herb [‘eseb, #6212] seeding seed (and) the fruit tree [‘ets, #6086] producing fruit after its kind [min, #4327]…” (1:9-11, Green). Deshe is an all-inclusive word, meaning “verdure [green things], vegetation” – and then two examples are given:77 ‘Eseb would have brought to mind green grasses and herbs, and ‘ets plants with woody stalks, like trees, in this case bearing fruit.78 These two kinds of vegetation would prove especially important to animals and humans as food sources (cf. Gen 1:29-30), including both the “seed-bearing plants” (NJB) or “grain” (CEV) and “fruit trees” (LB, NRSV, CEV, NJB) – the latter including the olive tree, fig tree, and grape vine (Judg 9:8-13). Ps 104 (sometimes called the “Creation Psalm”79) pictures, in this regards: “grass … for the cattle, / and plants for people to use” (v. 14) for food and to make wine, oil and bread (v. 14-15), also the “cedars of Lebanon” (which David would import to build his fine palace in Jerusalem, 2 Sam 5:11) and “fir trees,” where storks nest (v. 16-17). “And God saw that it was good,” repeated twice here (v. 10,12), might imply a “consummate perfection” (Sarna)80 or “how beautiful it was” (Hamilton).81 However, Von Rad believes that this statement is less an aesthetic judgment and more an evaluation that the work corresponded completely to God’s purpose,82 which Sailhamer holds must have meant in this context that it would be fully beneficial for humankind.83

However, what does “after their kind [min, #4327] mean in Gen 1:11 (NASB)? The fruit trees were to produce seed “after its kind” (Green, REB), or “according to its kind” (Cassuto, NEB, Von Rad, cf. NIV).84 The Contemporary English Version translates this as “corresponding to its own species.” Yet, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that “their kind” here (1:11-12,21,24-25) simply represents “a general classification,” not one that can really be related to modern taxonomy.85 Also, many translators render “kind” here not in a restrictive sense but in an all-inclusive sense, as “of every kind” (cf. Speiser, NRSV, Sarna, Hamilton),86 “all kinds” (GNB, CEV), or “all varieties” (Peterson). In the end, the Hebrew is too vague to indicate how vegetation was meant to unfold exactly. R. Mixter believes that although there might be a wide possibility of change inherent in the “kinds” that were originally created by God – abandoning the “fixity of the species” – still these variations could not step over certain divinely prescribed boundaries.87 F.H. Reusch (1886) points out that we just do not know the basic animal forms (1:24-25) that God created. J.W. Dawson (1877), the great evangelical geologist of the 19th century, wrote that Biblical revelation “gives us no definition of species as distinguished from varieties or races, so that there is nothing to prevent the supposition that, within certain limits indicated by the expression ‘after its kind,’ animals or plants may have been so constituted as to vary greatly in the progress of geological time.”88 For example, should one say that in the beginning here God created the Rosa (rose) genus, or each one of its 500 or so flower species, or was it an ancestor for the larger Rosaceae family, which then developed into some 3,500 species (including strawberry, blackberry and raspberry plants, as well as apple, peach, almond, cherry and apricot trees), or should we move even farther up on the modern taxonomic scale (cf. Purves 2004, p. 502)? What we do know is that the Lord commanded the earth to “grow growth” – and so the supernatural and natural seem to interface. Sarna notes also that God endows the earth with generative powers – not deified as in the pagan religions – but still life forces that existed through the will of the Creator.89 “And it was so” in 1:11 and elsewhere through the six ‘days,’ could be read as instantaneous, but also as stretching over a long period. This is last time in the Creation account that God will name anything; thereafter he hands this task over to Adam and his descendents (Gen 2:19-20,23; 3:20; 4:17,25-26, etc.).90

A fourth creative day (Gen 1:14-19)On “a fourth day” (NASB), “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky … to mark the seasons and days and years’ … [and] God made [asa] two great lights [the sun and moon] and … the stars.” (v. 14,16,19, NIV). Here the question arises as to how God could just now be creating the sun, after day and night were distinguished and made visible on earth on day 1 (1:3-5) and after vegetation had appeared on day 3 (1:11-13), which would require sunlight for photosynthesis and life. John Calvin held that the Lord provided supernatural light for days 1-3;91 yet this seems illogical and at odds with God’s interest in creating a natural world. In contrast, the gap theorists proposed that the sun, moon and stars came into being as part of the original creation (Gen 1:1); and then on day 1, with the refashioning the earth, God caused the heavy vapor surrounding the earth to begin dissipating so that “day” and “night” could be sensed from the human viewpoint on earth. The verb used in 1:16 is asa (#6213, “made”) – not bara – and the Scofield Study Bible suggests that asa here carries the idea of being “made visible.”92 Strong’s Hebrew–Chaldee dictionary notes that asa means “to do or make [something], in the broadest sense and widest application,” including to “bring forth” and “provide.”93 So here “God “brought forth [or: ‘provided’] two great lights in the sky to rule [over] the day and the night (1:16, author’s translation) – by clearing away all of the cloud cover, just as earlier he had moved moisture and clouds around on days 1 and 2, to make “day” and “night” appear and then to form a more emptied-out atmosphere. Still, another suggestion offered by Gleason Archer and Wayne Grudem is that asa here should be read not as past tense (“made”) but as pluperfect tense (“had made”), which normal Hebrew usage allows.94 For example, God “ended his work” (Gen 2:2) in the KJV is rendered as “had finished the/his work” in the NIV and CEV, and as “had completed the work” in the NJB. Another example of this can be seen with “God planted a garden” (Gen 2:8) in the KJV, which is translated as “God had planted…” in the NIV.

But doesn’t this day still seem out of order and like it should have even preceded day 1? Perhaps this day was moved back in sequence because the ancients so widely worshipped the sun and moon and venerated the stars as determining destinies;95 and so the narrative wishes to downplay their importance. The Enuma Elish does not record the creation of the sun and moon, because they were “great gods.”96 Therefore, the Biblical text uses the evasive wording “greater light” and “lesser light” to refer to the “sun” (shemesh, #8121) and the “moon” (yareak, #3394), Hebrew words that sounded like the names of pagan divinities,97 such as Shamash, the sun god in the Akkadian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Yarikh, the moon god in Ugarit, an ancient city-state on the Syrian coast.98 Instead, Gen 1 presents all of the heavenly “lights” as made by the one true God, for the purpose of setting seasons (e.g., new moons and festivals) and marking days and years on earth.99 These “lights” were not eternal but were created, and they were not made to be served but to serve. In fact, the narrator gives the stars “only the barest mention, as though he shrugged and said, ‘And, oh yes. He also made the stars.” – showing an utter contempt for the likes of ancient Babylonian astrology.100

A fifth creative day (Gen 1:20-23)And on “a fifth day” (NASB), “God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarmers having a living soul [nephesh, #5315], and let birds fly around’” in the heavens. And God created [bara] “great sea monsters [tannin, #8577] and all having a living soul [nephesh] that creeps and swarms in the waters, after their kind” – and so also with birds. (1:20-21, Green). Nephesh kayya here means literally “animate life,” i.e. containing the ‘breath of life’ distinct from plant life.101 The mention of tanninim (pl.) here represents another anti-pagan attack, since Tannin appears in Canaanite mythology from Ugarit (together with Leviathan) as the name of a primeval dragon-god who assisted Yam (Sea) in an elemental battle against Baal, the god of fertility. Yet, in Genesis it is Yahweh who has created whatever rumored and fearful “great sea monsters” there might be, striping them of any divinity.102 Because there is no hint of any supernatural battle here, Hamilton reads this term as pointing rather to large water creatures like the crocodile, the whale, and large snakes.103 Yet, in Ps 104 (which parallels Gen 1), the writer says, “Yonder is the sea, great and wide, / creeping things innumerable are there, / living things both small and great.” There also is “Leviathan,” the songwriter adds mockingly, “that you formed to sport in it.” (104:25-26, NRSV) – like God might keep it around a pet lizard! When God displays before Job an array of the wonderful creatures he has made, he ends with an admiring description of Leviathan, which has a crocodile appearance (Job 41, NRSV, cf. footnote for v. 1) – and which could jump unexpectedly out of the Nile and attack a person. Yet, even the most fearful of animals are God’s creation and under his dominion, and even they are considered “good” in God’s sight (v. 21,25).104 Relating to “birds,” the ancient Israelites would have thought of the common song birds certainly (Ps 104:12), as well as the more exotic kinds that they knew, like the stork (Ps 104:17) and the ostrich, hawk and eagle (Job 39:13,26,27). Again (in Gen 1:20), God’s command is not the more general “Let there be…,” but the more ‘cooperative’ “Let the waters swarm with swarmers” (lit. Green), or “Let the waters bring forth…” (NRSV). Also, for the first time in the Creation account, God speaks now to his creatures directly (his first zoological life), and he “blessed them” (v. 22).105

The sixth creative day (Gen 1:24-31)On “the sixth day” (lit., NASB), “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth, [having] a living soul, cattle [behema, #929] after its kind, and creepers [remes, #7431], and [wild] beasts [kay, #2416] of the earth.’ And it was so.” (1:24, Green). Behema refers to large four-footed mammals that are easy to domesticate, such as oxen, goats, sheep, donkeys and camels.106 Remes refers to small creatures that move along close to the ground, including reptiles and very small animals,107 like rodents,108 lizards109 and weasels.110 Moore suggests that remes would not have included crawling insects, since sheres is normally used in the OT to refer to these, as well as to creatures that have many legs, like spiders and caterpillars.111 Kay (“beasts”) would refer here to wild animals, since animals were often divided in ancient times into the categories of domesticated and wild. All these wild animals would belong to the category of mammals.112 The absence of any blessing here is surprising – although Sarna thinks that this may be because of some perceived menace relating to the wild animals,113 as well as to mice (which could spread the plague) and to snakes (which could be poisonous). Common wild animals in OT times included deer, ibexes, gazelles, foxes, hyenas, jackals, wolves, leopards, lions and bears.114

“Then [still on the sixth day] God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image [tselem, #6754], according to our likeness [demut, #1823]’ … So God created [bara] humankind in his own image … male and female…” (1:26,27, NIV). Although interpreters have tried to differentiate between “image” and “likeness” here, Sarna notes that these terms were often paralleled and used without differentiation in ancient Near Eastern sources; for example, in Mesopotamia and Egypt the ruling monarch was frequently described as being in “the image” and “the likeness” of a god. Note that the second word (“likeness”) is dropped where “in his image” is repeated in 1:27. More important here, every human being is raised to the same high level, bearing the stamp of royalty.115 Von Rad believes that ‘made in the Divine image’ refers not simply to the spiritual dimension, but to the whole being, which was superior to what had been created prior to this in the natural world.116 It becomes clear in Gen 2-3 that Adam was capable of analytical, linguistic and creative tasks (assigning names to all of the animals and birds, 2:19-20a), that Adam and Eve were able to speak to and enjoy fellowship with God (3:8-9ff), and yet they also could be tempted to disobey and fall into sin (revealing an advanced moral capacity and freedom of choice, 3:1-6,10-13). Later, during Adam’s lifetime, and with quite amazing speed, humans began raising livestock and growing crops (4:2-3), building cities (4:17), creating music (4:21), and making “all kinds of bronze and iron tools” (4:22, NRSV). The creation of humankind was the pinnacle of Creation. The special Divine intent was spelled out in advance (1:26), and the special verb bara (“create”) is repeated 3 times in 1:27. Humans are to share a unique relationship to God, who desires to communicate with them in a way unlike any other of his earthly creatures; and he even hands over to them the custody and care of the earth (1:28).117 Relating to the Divine plural reference “us … our” in 1:26, (1) this may refer to the angelic host of God’s heavenly court (M. Weinfeld, cf. Job 1:6-12); (2) it may relate to elohim, a plural name for God used to express his majesty (P. Joüon, cf. Gen 11:6-9); (3) it may represent a plural of deliberation, like we would say “Let’s see, shall we…” (Dale Patrick); or (4) it may indicate a plural of fullness (G. Hasel) or a duality within the Godhead (D.J.A. Clines) – even perhaps pointing back to ruak elohim in Gen 1:2.118 We should not view Moses as a “trinitarian monotheist,”119 and yet he was aware that the Almighty could appear in various forms: in human form accompanied by angels to Abraham (Gen 18:1-2) and to Jacob (Gen 32:1-2,24-30), as well as in a burning bush (Exod 3:2-6), a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire (Exod 13:21), and thunder and lightning (Exod 19:16-18). Most commentators hold that in Gen 1:26 the Divine plural refers to God and his accompanying angelic host,120 although we prefer reading it as an inclusion the divine ruak, or Spirit, in Gen 1:2.

The seventh day (Gen 2:1-4a)On “the seventh day” (lit.), God acknowledged that he had “finished the work that he had been doing; and so … he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” (2:2-3, NIV). A Divine blessing (‘blessed them/it’) follows God’s first creation of living creatures (1:22), the creation of humankind (1:28), and now finally his appearance on the 7th day, marking the end of all of his major creative work here. As has already been noted, “And … God finished the work…” (2:2, italics added) is best translated here as pluperfect (“had finished”). C.H. Gordon notes that this section appears to continue the passage’s criticism of pagan myth by not mentioning the name “Sabbath” day directly, since e.g. Sapattu (the Sabbath) in Akkadia was set aside as a day to appease the gods.121 Still, this last day of the creative ‘week’ was distinguished from the preceding days as a day of “rest.” Human time is now divided into time and holy time, into ordinary days and the special seventh day, set apart as solemn unto the Lord (Westermann).122 ‘Made it [the seventh day] holy’ (NIV) means that God “sanctified it” (KJV, NASB) or “set it apart as a special day” (GNB, cf. CEV). Later in Israel the Sabbath day would be established as a day when the people were to cease from their work and remember God who created the world and everything in it (Exod 20:8-11) as well as to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Deut 5:12-15). Also, the Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant promises given to Israel, and it was to remind the people that it is the Lord who makes them holy (Exod 31:12-13). Finally, God calls all of his people to enter into and share in his rest (peace).123

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© 2007 Bruce Gerig

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