Commentary on Genesis

Genesis 1:1-2

  1. The Primeval Universal Events (1:1-11:26)
    1. The Creation of All Things (1:1-2:3)
      1. The beginning (1:1-2)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Notes

1:1-2

All expositors have to deal with the relationship between v. 1 and v. 2. The Hebrew text begins v. 2 with a Waw disjunctive, indicating that the verse is not in sequence with v. 1 and so should not be translated “and then the earth became....” Rather, v. 2 provides a series of circumstantial clauses to describe the existing conditions when God said, “Let there be light.” The nlt chose not to translate the Waw as “and” or “now”; and its marginal note attempts to capture the nature of the clauses as circumstantial, suggesting for v. 1 the translation “In the beginning when God created” or “When God began to create.” This is probably too free, for it makes the first verse a temporal clause when the Hebrew is clearly an absolute statement. The Hebrew MT has a preposition “in” followed by the noun “beginning” in the absolute state (so, “in the beginning”) and not in the construct state (which would mean “in the beginning of”). This is followed by the perfect tense and its subject, “God created,” and then the compound direct object, “the heavens and the earth.” In order to make the first verse a temporal clause, the noun “beginning” would properly be taken as a noun in construct, and the vowels of the verb changed to make an infinitive: “In the beginning of the creating of God,” or “when God created.” Most English translations have chosen the absolute as the preferred reading (“In the beginning God created”); some suggest in the margin that it could be taken as a temporal clause (“When God created/began to create”). But this suggestion does raise the question of the relationship between vv. 1 and 2. A number of commentators have taken v. 1 to be a report of the beginning of creation prior to the events of ch 1. Some of them take “waste,” “void,” “darkness,” and “deep” in v. 2 to refer simply to the yet unformed nature of the universe, an initial stage of creation to be completed in the subsequent events of the chapter. The benefit of this view is that it makes 1:1 “the” beginning, and that fits nicely with the straightforward reading of the Bible. The difficulty is that it does not do justice to the meanings of the words in v. 2 and their connection to baraʿ [TH, ZH1343] (to create) in v. 1.

Older commentators had seen that the words in v. 2 are too strong to refer to unshaped matter, that they are corrected, not completed, in the rest of the chapter, and that baraʿ, “to create,” usually produces something perfect and pristine, not waste and void. They also sensed a need to fit Satan’s fall from heaven into the order of things as well. This led to what has been known as the “gap theory,” that Satan fell after v. 1 and brought darkness and chaos to the earth, so that God had to set about to correct it. This view had the value of keeping 1:1 as original creation, accounting for Satan, and keeping v. 2 as a chaos. But it required translating the beginning of v. 2 as “and the earth became,” which is not how the Waw disjunctive clause with the perfect tense would be normally translated.

Other scholars, however, have concluded that v. 1 serves well as a brief introductory statement of the message of 1:1-2:3, with the particulars to follow. This view makes the most sense of the grammar, syntax, and philology of the beginning verses. Moreover, this arrangement is paralleled by 2:4-7, which begins with the introductory statement, followed by three circumstantial clauses (the first two of which are also causal) and then the Waw consecutive form to begin the narrative proper. For 1:1-3, this view does justice to the terms and the syntax, but its potential difficulty is theological: It would mean that Genesis is describing the beginning of the creation as we know it, but not the original creation of matter, with the story assuming the earth was already there when God said “Let there be light.” The Bible clearly affirms that God created everything out of nothing, including the angels who were already there when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7). This “re-creation” view would account for the creation of everything we know, but not the actual beginning of matter. Other statements in Scripture would embrace all of that. It would also allow for a greater age for the planets and the stars, even though life on our planet would be recent. (For more detailed discussions on the issue, see Waltke 1975; NIDOTTE 1.606-609; Tsumura 1994.)

1:2

the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.—It was by his Spirit that God sovereignly created everything. The Gospel of John clarifies that the God of creation is the living Word, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:3-4). In the darkness of the deep the Spirit hovered, preparing for the effectual, creative word of God. This is the pattern that fits all of God’s works: The Spirit is at work when the word is given.

Commentary

The first two verses of the Bible have received a good deal of attention over the years. The traditional understanding is that they refer to the actual beginning of matter, creation out of nothing (i.e., creatio ex nihilo), and are both therefore part of day one. That would mean that the first step involved making matter that at first was “formless and empty,” and then a second step involved shaping it and filling it to make the world as we know it. But many biblical scholars have concluded that the vocabulary and grammar of the two verses pose difficulties for this interpretation. The language of the second verse with its “waste and void” seems to describe more of a ruined or dismantled state than merely a formless and empty mass; and the rest of the chapter provides the correction of the conditions in verse 2. That the universe is God’s creation is perfectly expressed by the statement “God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). This took place “in the beginning,” not the beginning of God for there is none, but the beginning of our universe. The Bible is clear on this point. There is no room for atheistic alternative explanations. The sovereign work of creation is established by the verb that is used here—God “created.” The word is baraʿ [TH, ZH1343] (to create); it can be used in sentences that declare creation that is made out of nothing; but it can also be used to indicate a refashioning or a renovation (e.g., God “created” the man from the dust; 1:27-28 and 2:7). This verb does not go well with the following statement in 1:2, in that baraʿ would not likely be said to produce formlessness and emptiness and darkness (cf. Isa 45:18). The point is that what God creates is perfect, new, and fresh.

How then do we relate these verses? If the expressions of verse 2 do describe a chaos and not simply unformed matter, then verse 1 should be interpreted as a general summary statement of what the entire chapter will tell about the creation of the heavens and the earth (an expression for the whole universe) as we know it. This would mean that verse 1 is not part of day one, that the account in Genesis begins with the state of things recorded in verse 2 and not with the original creation of matter, and that the earth specifically and the universe in general could be very old. Genesis does not explain how these conditions came about, only that they were there. The second verse is set off by the grammar (with a Waw disjunctive) to form three circumstantial clauses: “[1] The earth was formless and empty, [2] and darkness covered the deep waters. [3] And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” These clauses are circumstantial, explaining the condition of things when God said, “Let there be light” (1:3). They would not normally be the product of divine creation, but would describe a chaos that happened to the creation. Moreover, the chapter does not call them good, but sets about to correct them. First God corrects the darkness with light. Then the formlessness is corrected in the first three days, and the emptiness in the last three days. And all these things that God did were good.

Where did the chaos come from if the second verse is not an early stage of the creative process? An earlier theory posited that between verses 1 and 2 there is a gap of time, allowing for the fall of Satan and the entrance of evil into God’s creation. The theory was put forward with the understanding that verse 1 was part of the first day; so God created the heaven and the earth, then the earth became waste and void, and then God created light. The conditions of waste and void and darkness may be the result of the fall of Satan, but the theory is not compelling. The second verse should not be translated “and the earth became waste and void,” but “now the earth was waste and void.”

If verse 1 is taken as a summary statement for the creation account, however, then it is not part of the first day. And whatever caused the chaos occurred before this account. The first day records the creation of light to dispel the darkness. In a sense, then, the account of creation has many aspects of re-creation in it, which fits with its later use in Scripture as a paradigm of redemption. The chapter details the creation of the universe as we know it, not the actual beginning of every form of matter. It begins with the clear proclamation that God created everything; then reports the chaos and how in six days God corrected the chaos by the creation. We know from the rest of Scripture that God created things before Genesis 1:1 because the angels were present to sing for joy at the wonderful work of creation (Job 38:4-7). Genesis is not interested in explaining the darkness or the formlessness or the emptiness, just what God did about it. But the expressions that are used lead one to suspect immediately that something ominous happened—darkness, throughout Scripture, suggests danger, and the verb “have dominion over” (1:28) implies putting down some opposition. The challenge comes in 3:1 when the tempter, using the form of a reptile, is introduced. He manages to convince Adam and Eve to disobey the Creator. The serpent is already there as part of creation, but the tempter simply speaks after God has finished his work of creation—he too is present in the garden. Later, Scripture will identify the tempter in this account as Satan (see Rev 12:9). The prophet Ezekiel seems to be hinting at the same thing, saying that the evil spirit behind the king of Tyre was in Eden (Ezek 28:11-14).

If this is the proper interpretation of these difficult expressions and constructions, nothing at all is taken away from God’s sovereignty in creation. Rather, God’s sovereignty is clear in the way that he made everything, and made it perfect. The Bible clearly teaches that everything that exists was made by him through his powerful decrees, leaving no room whatsoever for atheistic evolution. But Genesis may be indicating that something happened in the earliest stages of creation which God had to correct, and in the process, he put everything the way he wanted it to be. In fact, Genesis develops a pattern of creation—un-creation—re-creation several times to show God’s sovereignty over all things.

The account of creation is the logical starting point for Genesis, for it reports the beginning of all things. It is also the best theological way to begin the book, for it lays the foundation for the whole law in the decrees of the Creator.

The chapter portrays God as the sovereign creator of all life. As the prologue to the Pentateuch, it teaches Israel that the God who formed them into a people is the God who created the world, all that is in it, and everything in the cosmos beyond it. Thus, the theocracy is founded on the almighty God of creation. Israel’s laws, customs, and beliefs were only as authoritative as the God who gave them; Israel would learn from the creation account that her God was the sovereign over all life, all matter, and all gods.

The implications of this are great. It means that everything that exists must be under God’s dominion. The creation must be subject to the Creator. Forces of nature, all creatures, and all material objects are all part of his creation. The pagan nations may have venerated these things as gods, but none of them could pose a real threat to the plan of the one true God.

Second, the account of creation also lays the foundation for the law. If God was before all things and created all things, how foolish it would be to have any other gods before him (Exod 20:3). There were none! If God made people to be his image on earth representing him, how foolish it would be to make an image of God after the pattern of a human (Exod 20:4-6; Isa 44:9-20). If God set aside the seventh day for the enjoyment of his creation (Exod 20:8-11), how presumptuous it would be to treat the Sabbath day as any other day rather than enter into its celebration with the living God. The commandments of God find their rationale in creation, or rather, in the nature of the creator God.

A third implication is that if creation with all its richness and beauty and function came into existence by the word of the Lord (Ps 33:9-11), God’s people certainly should realize that their lives will be ordered and blessed if they obey the word of the Lord. What better way to introduce the law (i.e., the five books of Moses) than to articulate the very first ten commands, by which God brought all things into existence.

And what a contrast between this account and the pagan accounts of creation in the ancient world. Myths about battles among the gods, carcasses being used for parts of creation, or the fusion of spirit and matter in a way so perplexing that it defies logic—there was nothing uplifting and purifying in them. The elegance and majesty of the sovereign God simply giving the command for things to come into existence and then blessing them by his powerful word shows all pagan myths and modern alternatives to be base and foolish. And it was this powerful word that would motivate God’s people to put their trust in him and not in the perverse deities of the world around them.

Fourth, the account of creation also begins the revelation of the nature of God as a redeeming God. It tells how he brought the cosmos out of formlessness and emptiness, countered darkness with the creation of light, made divisions in what he had created, and in the end sanctified and blessed all that he had made. All this would have had a powerful impact on Moses’s first audience, for in many ways the redemption from Egypt reflected many of the motifs of creation: God’s deliverance of his people from the chaos of Egypt through the waters of the sea, granting them light for the way, forming them into a nation that would be his image on earth, and blessing them with all provisions of life as they became his holy nation. The prophets and the apostles saw in creation the patterns of redemption. And Paul certainly drew upon it by writing that the one who caused light to shine out of darkness has caused his light to shine in our hearts (2 Cor 4:6) so that we might become new creations (2 Cor 5:17).

Genesis 1:3-31

  1. The six days of creation (1:3-31)

3Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

6Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” 7And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. 8God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

9Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. 12The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

13And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.

14Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. 16God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, 18to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

19And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day.

20Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” 21So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. 22Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

23And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.

24Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. 25God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

26Then God said, “Let us make human beingsOr man; Hebrew reads adam. in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27So God created human beingsOr the man; Hebrew reads ha-adam. in his own image.

In the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

29Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

31Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.

Notes

1:3

God said.—The first day establishes a literary pattern for each of the days of creation: There is a creative word, a report of its effect, an evaluation of the work as “good,” at times a naming, and then a numbering of each day.

1:5

the first day.—Concerning the word “day” (yom [TH, ZH3427]) in ch 1, it is well known that there are different interpretations based on the usage of the word. It could refer to a literal 24-hour day, or to an age, such as a geological age prior to the presence of human beings on the earth. In favor of the former, it should be noted that whenever numerals are joined with the word, it refers to a literal day (e.g., Lev 23:3, 6, 7, 8, 34, 35, 36, 39). Moreover, the Ten Commandments legislating the keeping of the Sabbath day assumes six days of creation (Exod 20:11), for the normal reading of the law would indicate a parallel between the six days of creation and the six days of labor each week. In addition, the literal understanding would harmonize with the presence of words like “night” and “years” and “seasons” in the passage. All of these would have to receive a different understanding if not taken literally.

If the day-age theory is accepted, it would simply mean that God’s creative work ranged over extended periods of time, and the chronological order of those periods fits what one would expect in the development of the universe and life in it. This in no way teaches evolution since the passage reveals that the sovereign God created everything according to its kind. Development of species within their species is one thing, but evolution from a simple form to more complex forms over time does not fit the text. God is the sole creator of every individual species. In addition, as mentioned above, the vocabulary of the chapter would have to be adjusted to fit ages. If the word “day” is taken to be a long period of time, or an age, then similar interpretations must be given to “night” and “years” and “seasons,” all of which appear in the chapter and appear to have a normal meaning. By the fourth day we read how the sun and the moon were established to rule over the day and the night; the day and the night already existed, and the sun and the moon dominated the heavens in each time period. All these exegetical details would have to be explained differently to harmonize with the day-age interpretation. It is easier to support the literal 24-hour-day interpretation exegetically; but the day-age theory seems to fit better with some of the findings of science. In either case we are talking about creation of all things by divine decree, and under those circumstances neither interpretation would pose a problem for God’s sovereign work. In contrast to atheistic scientific theories, the biblical text declares again and again that God created everything by his powerful word.

1:22

God blessed them.—While this translation conveys the definition of the word barak [TH1288A, ZH1385], it needs further clarification. The verb barak has the basic idea of giving a gift, of enriching someone or something in some way. When God blessed people (or animals, as here), it signified his giving them good gifts for their life. But the word also includes the sense of enablement as part of the enrichment. The decree to be fruitful comes as the blessing but also includes the ability to be fruitful.

1:27

God created human beings in his own image.—The idea that man was created “in the image” here should not be understood to imply that God has a limiting shape (as in pagan conceptions)—God is spirit. “Image” is used figuratively here to indicate that humans share, although imperfectly, in the nature of God in his communicable attributes, such as intelligence, creativity, compassion, and the like.

Commentary

The first creative word of God produced light: “Let there be light” (1:3). This is a majestic, sublime, and amazing decree. God spoke and immediately there was light. The light was natural, physical light. And its creation immediately dispelled and limited the darkness (1:4-5). Light and darkness in the Bible are also symbols of good and evil, of the nature of God and the nature of evil. This initial act of creation finds its final and complete parallel in the age to come when there will be no darkness (Rev 22:5). The Israelites would have appreciated this fact about God’s first act of creation, for he had given them light in their dwellings in Egypt when there was darkness on the Egyptians and their sun-god (Exod 10:21-24), and it was his light that led them through the wilderness (Exod 13:21-22). They would know that God is light, and that in him they could know the way to life.

God named the light “day” and the darkness he named “night.” In the culture of the ancient Near East, the act of naming was a sovereign act, an act of creation in its own right. The sovereign gives something true existence and identification by ascribing a name to it. The divine evaluation of this light is that it was “good.” In Genesis, whatever produces life, preserves life, or enhances life, is “good.” The light was the first element that God called good—not the darkness that it countered.

On the second day (1:6-8) God separated the atmospheric waters from the terrestrial waters by an arching expanse or “space” that God called “sky.” This may suggest that previously there had been a dense moisture covering the earth. By making this area of atmospheric pressure, God was making further divisions and distinctions within his creation. First light as opposed to darkness, and now water and air as opposed to dense moisture over the whole planet—conditions were beginning to come about that would support life. So God gave the command, and it happened. The report in the text is that “that is what happened.” The expression in Hebrew (“and it was so”) has a stronger connotation: What God created took its fixed place in time and space and was made perfect in conjunction with all other aspects of creation.

On the third day (1:9-13), God formed dry land with its vegetation. The waters were gathered into reservoirs, called “seas”; and the dry land emerged and produced all kinds of vegetation. This report is uncomplicated and pure compared with the pagan accounts: The sea was not a god that had to be controlled, and vegetation was not the result of some cyclical seasonal myth in which the gods ensured annual fertility. No, God controlled the boundaries of the seas (Job 38:8-11), and God caused everything to grow by his creative decree.

On day four (1:14-19), God made the sun appear and “govern” the day, and the moon to “govern” the night. And the stars appeared in the heavens as well. Either these things were created with apparent age (like Adam) or they had been created earlier and were made visible on earth after God separated light from darkness and the waters above from the waters below. If the latter, the language would be phenomenal, in that it appeared that these were made on the fourth day because that is when they could first be seen from the earth.

The text says that these heavenly bodies were “to separate the day from the night.... to mark the season, days, and years” (1:14). Literally, they were signs in the heavens that regulated time. Such terms assume the existence of the sun and the rotation of the planet earth with its moon in its present cycle. The pagan world used the sun, moon, and stars as signs for divination; but the Bible says they declare the glory of God the creator (Ps 19:1). How foolish it was to follow the astrological charts of the Babylonians or the sun-god of Egypt; these were part of God’s creation. Divine revelation for guidance comes from the word of the Lord, the same word that made these things the pagans sought. But as Paul says, such people rejected the Creator to worship the creation (Rom 1:25).

In the ancient world, the pagans associated the stars with divinities that they worshiped, whether the sun-god or the moon-god, or the morning star or evening star. They would decide on a course of action based on the phenomena in the heavens. Israel was not permitted to do this for the very reason that Paul later stated (Col 3:5): Idolatry is covetousness, for it seeks to manipulate the deities for personal gain. Deuteronomy 18:14-22 made the prohibition absolute. Israel was not to attempt to divine the future by the stars, or by any other means the pagans used; rather, they were to seek to do the will of God, revealed at times with the Urim and Thummim, but more fully in the messages of the prophets. It was a matter of submission to the sole authority of the God of creation and of avoiding practices that challenged that authority. Later God would confound the stargazers and magicians of Babylon by his clear revelation through Daniel, showing the sovereignty of Yahweh over the deities that these people served (Dan 2:1-28; 5:7-28). It is true that at times God worked through the practices of such groups to reveal his sovereignty; he spoke a blessing through the pagan diviner Balaam who had been brought to curse Israel (Num 22-24), and drew the magi to Bethlehem with the sign of a star in the east (Matt 2:1-2). But God did not permit his people to become involved in such practices to obtain revelation that he had not given.

The great creatures of the sea and the air were created on the fifth day (1:20-23). Here we have the second use of the verb “created” (baraʿ [TH, ZH1343]; 1:21) in the chapter. Great sea creatures—whether referring to Leviathan the crocodile, or Behemoth the hippopotamus, or simply to whales or other large sea creatures—were venerated as dragons of the deep in the ancient world. But the use of this verb stresses that they were the creation of God alone, part of the animal world and not evil spirits or monsters at all. Moreover, their ability to be fruitful and multiply was given to them by God Almighty (1:22). This is emphasized by the statement that God “blessed them” (see note on 1:22).

The climax of the six days of creation is the creation of animal and human life (1:24-31). Everything created prior to this prepared for the final creation of human beings. And although man is the last creature mentioned in the days of creation, he did not evolve from earlier forms, but was separately formed by God. He was made from the dust of the ground, not from earlier life-forms; and he was given the breath of life from God and did not gradually develop the breathing and thinking faculties (see 2:7).

Only human life is called God’s image. The term “image” applies equally to male and female, for that is what makes up the human race. It is used figuratively here, and does not refer to physical shape or outer appearance. Being the image of God means that humans share, although imperfectly, in the nature of God—that is, they were given the communicable attributes of intelligence, knowledge, spiritual understanding, creativity, wisdom, love, compassion, holiness, justice, and the like. As the text will explain (2:7), all these capacities were given by the inbreathing of the breath of life. Thus, humans have the capacity to commune with the living God, as well as with one another.

God’s image in humans is functional: As God’s representatives on earth, humans were to rule and have dominion over it (1:26, 28). The terminology may be borrowed from the Egyptian world where kings would set up colossal statues of themselves as signs of their authority over the region (cf. von Rad 1962:1.146). But God’s image was alive—it was placed in living human beings, who would be responsible for carrying out that dominion. Unfortunately, when sin entered the human race, their capacities were greatly diminished. And because of sin, “all things” are not under mankind’s dominion (Heb 2:8). By rebelling against God, the humans forfeited their right to rule and have dominion as God’s representatives; they were expelled from the garden to scratch out a simple living from an unproductive ground, and outside the presence of God, life would be difficult and far more dangerous. Only in the victory of Christ over sin and Satan would there be the hope of the restoration of this dominion. Jesus will establish dominion over all the earth at his coming (Heb 2:5-8), and we will reign with him on earth (Rev 5:10).

God’s blessing of the male and the female empowered them to be fruitful. This blessing could only come from God, for he alone can give life and make it productive. Later, the nation of Israel would come to realize how God had blessed them with descendants in fulfillment of his promises to Abraham (ch 15; 18:1-19; 22:1-19; Exod 1:7).