Genesis 1:1-2:3—Creation


"A house testifies that there was a builder, a dress that there was a weaver, a door that there was a carpenter; so our world by its existence proclaims its Creator, God."

Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph

In a Nutshell

God created the world in six days, speaking everything into existence. The creation account in Genesis shows us that God existed before all, God has made all, and therefore God deserves all our obedience and adoration. This creation account is foundational for our understanding of who God is and what place we as humans occupy in this plan.

I. Introduction.
The Big Bang From God's Perspective

Perhaps no other chapter in the Scriptures is quite as well-known, yet less agreed upon, as the very first chapter of the Bible. From what appears to be a fairly simple, brief, chronological account of how creation came into being comes an array of complicated, extended explanations of what "really" happened. To some people the creation account in Genesis is nothing more than a fairy tale, a myth, or an attempt to explain the beginning of the universe from a prescientific perspective. The scientific method is used by many people to try to explain this event in history that no one saw and which cannot be repeated.

Various attempts have been made to reconcile the theology presented and the "assured" results of science. Believers who are committed to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures come up with mutually exclusive points of view. How can this be? What theory best explains the evidence we see in our world and the truth we read in the Scriptures? What was the purpose of the author as he recorded this historical event that must have been revealed to him by the Lord God?

Sometimes, tongue in cheek, I announce to my Genesis class that I am about to play a recording from one of the great theologians of our day. Imagine their surprise when they hear the voice of comedian Bill Cosby. On his tape titled Those of You with or Without Children, You'll Understand, Cosby has a live monologue called "Genesis." While I don't appreciate all that Cosby has to say on this tape, he does have an excellent depiction of the quality of God's work in creation.

Let there be trees. And God saw that it was good, said it was good, and it was good. Trees, let the trees stand. Good, quality of God's work, good, that God was satisfied, good, just good. Man invents, God creates. Man invented an automobile. Called it fantastic! God did a tree. Said it was good, you see. Man did a refrigerator. Said amazing! God did a rabbit. Said good. The wheels fell off the car and the refrigerator broke down. Tree's still up, the rabbit's still running. Good!

Genesis 1 depicts God as creating this world. And he did it well and all by himself! You might say the "big bang" was really the voice of God!

II. Commentary.


Although Christians may disagree on some aspects of the creation story, we agree that God created this world, he created it by himself, and he created it "very good."

A Creation in Summary (1:1)

SUPPORTING IDEA: God is the Creator of matter and space.

1:1. The words in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth show that the existence of God is assumed right from the start. There are no arguments or evidence given since creation itself will declare the truth of the existence of God (Ps. 19:1-4). Using the term Elohim, which in Scripture is both a generic term for god (or gods since it is plural in form) and the proper name God (the context will need to determine the proper translation), the author declares that both space (the heavens) and matter (the earth) were created by him. This name for God (Elohim) will be used throughout the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3.

The term created is a Hebrew verb that always has God as its subject. No preexisting material is mentioned or implied here (this type of creation is often called by the Latin term ex nihilo), although the Hebrew verb does not have to have this meaning in all its uses. The New Testament makes clear that all things created came from God (John 1:3; Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:3). This is a theological affirmation that all believers can agree on.

In the beginning speaks of the beginning of the universe—not of all things, since God is eternal (John 1:1; Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:15-17). Genesis, and the rest of Scripture, will not give us an exhaustive view of all that happens but an interpreted, theological history so we can understand God's plan to establish—and after the fall to reestablish—his rule over all creation through the beings he has created. Genesis will start with a universal picture of creation but will soon narrow to God's choice of a man and his family through whom he will work out his plan.

The heavens and the earth is a figure of speech that describes the totality of creation (like Revelation's use of alpha and omega to denote everything between). The Hebrew word for heavens is plural and is used here to describe everything that is above the surface of the earth. Later, "heavens" will refer to the home of the sun, moon, and stars, or the universe (Ps. 19:1), the home of the birds and the clouds, or the atmosphere (Dan. 4:12). Finally, in 2 Corinthians 12:2 "heaven" will refer to the home of the angels and departed saints. Specifying the heavens and the earth means that God created everything.

B Initial Conditions of Creation (1:2)

SUPPORTING IDEA: What we see now in the physical universe once existed in a condition of chaos and emptiness.

1:2. This verse tells us that the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The fact that the Spirit of God was present must caution us not to espouse an interpretation that would present this condition as either antagonistic to or outside of God's control. Not only was the Spirit of God present, but the second person of the Trinity, the incarnate Word, was also present and active in creation (see John 1:3).

The creative Word will turn chaotic matter into that which has structure and order. This ancient interpretation does not conflict with the biblical concept that God created the universe out of nothing. This would only be a stage in the great plan of God. Isaiah 45:18 states, "For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: 'I am the Lord, and there is no other.'" The first couple of days of creation will bring order to this matter, while the next several days will bring fertility and fullness.

C the Six Days of Creation (1:3-31)

SUPPORTING IDEA: God fills his universe with productive matter and places mankind in a position of authority.

1:3-5. God had only to speak and things came into being. This demonstrates the sovereignty of God in a marvelous manner. It reminds us of the importance and authority behind all of God's words.

The fact that creation occurred at the word of God (cp. Ps. 33:9; Heb. 11:3) is significant theologically in a couple of ways. For example, Jesus Christ, who in John's Gospel is called the Word of God, was active in creation (John 1:3). Also God's word is sufficient authority to have matter and life come into being in a way that was decreed for them. The Latin term fiat is a translation of let there be. This is a technical term for creation that occurred as a result of God's word. This phrase and God said is found in every day of creation, but it occurs twice on the third day and three times on the sixth day.

God called is a phrase that is used when God named the items he had created. Naming something, both today and in the ancient world, signifies an exercise of sovereign right. Only the parent of a child, or the inventor of an item, has the legal right and authority to name.

The light created on Day 1 of creation does not appear to be the light from the sun since this celestial body was introduced on the fourth day (vv. 14-18). Some interpreters believe that the specific functions of the celestial bodies were assigned on the fourth day with their creation occurring here on the first day. This view does not appear to be the best explanation of the relationship of this verse and Genesis 1:14-18. Some believe that light should be understood as symbolic of energy and that it is this "force" that was created on Day 1.

Others believe that this light corresponds to that light spoken of later in Scripture as the "shekinah," the light that is a manifestation of God's glory (Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kgs. 8:11). Such a view is supported by Revelation 22:5a, where the apostle John—speaking of the future in God's presence—declares, "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light."

This view would not suggest that God's glory was created on the first day but only that his manifested, visible glory was created to illuminate the creation. This understanding is also in keeping with the statement made in the prior verse that the Spirit of God was present. God's presence was now manifested in a manner (creation of light) that would allow God's creative works to be visible.

Darkness is the absence of light and in later Scripture will often signify evil (e.g., Exod 10:21-23; Job 3:4). But Genesis 1:2 declares that the Spirit of God was present, and no evil is mentioned.

The phrase And there was evening, and there was morning shows the effect of the creation of light and also implies the rotation of the earth. The Jewish people have regarded their day as beginning with the setting of the sun because the evening is mentioned first in this and subsequent verses.

The evaluation of each element of God's creation as being good carries the concept of approval and acceptance. Nothing resisted God's word; nothing was only partial or blemished. All that God made on this day and on each of the following days met with his positive endorsement.

1:6-8. On Day 2 of creation, God declared, Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water. The resulting space or expanse between the waters that existed on the earth and the moisture that was now in the atmosphere is called by a Hebrew term meaning "hammered out," usually translated "firmament" (KJV) or sky. Into this area God later placed the sun, moon, and stars. So this space apparently included more than just the atmosphere within which the clouds were formed. "Sky" or "firmament" or "heaven" describes everything above the earth's surface.

1:9-13. God declared on the third day of creation, Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. In the gathering together of the waters on the surface of the earth, separation occurred. This separation produced both dry ground called land and a body (or "bodies," since the Hebrew term is plural) of water called seas. The Hebrew language used here does not demand that all waters on earth form a single ocean nor does all dry ground have to be a single continent, although the latter is certainly possible. From the now-exposed soil God brought forth vegetation, according to their various kinds. The concept of creation producing like-creation is emphasized by the tenfold use in Genesis 1 of the expression according to their various kinds. This is a refutation of most evolutionary theories.

In relation to the forming of dry land, the first evaluation on Day 3 is given: And God saw that it was good (v. 10). From this land man will be formed. Over this land, and over what is produced on it, man will rule as God's caretaker.

God produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it. The first life-form, vegetation, was created. This life was an unconscious life, not the same as the life that animals and man would possess. The emphasis is not on all the vegetation that God created but specifically on those that would provide food for humans. The phrase various kinds indicates that there were several separate families of plants.

1:14-19. This fourth day of creation parallels Day 1 on which light (singular) was created. God declared, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. The functions of these luminaries involved: (1) a distinction between day and night; (2) the means, both solar and lunar, by which time could be measured; (3) an illumination of the earth which involved the capability of life to exist on earth; and (4) a reminder to mankind of God's creative work (Ps. 8:3; Rom. 1:19-20).

The second function above is noted by the phrase let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years. Later in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), God will create for his nation Israel a calendar of religious festivals regulated by the movement of the earth around the sun and the movement of the moon. This function of regulating time has sometimes been misinterpreted as suggesting that the celestial bodies were created as signs to guide man in making decisions or in understanding the future (for example, the use of the horoscope). But that is never suggested and in fact is a violation of scriptural teaching on seeking guidance from none but God and through his prescribed means (Prov. 3:5-6; Deut. 18:10-13). Later in Genesis various "signs" will be mentioned as reminders of God's grace and mercy (Gen. 4; 9; 17).

While many ancient cultures worshiped the sun, in the biblical creation account the sun was not created until the fourth day after light and life had been created. God was the Creator of the sun and the stars. To consider them as gods is to engage in false worship.

1:20-23. The creation of aquatic and flying creatures occurs on Day 5, a day which parallels Day 2 when the waters and skies were created. Each creature of the sky and the water is carefully noted to be set apart from the others by species. This declaration refutes the idea that the Bible allows for macroevolution that includes all fish or birds coming from one original form. This does not teach against mutations or the development of various breeds within a species.

The expression God blessed them and said is a new aspect in the creation story. God did not do this for the life called vegetation. Evidently, the life of a fish or bird is inherently different from plant life. God caused his special favor to rest upon this newly created, conscious life.

1:24-31. Life-forms that live primarily on the land were created on the sixth day. This day paralleled the third day when dry land appeared. Again the creation was according to various kinds.

The life that animals possessed was a conscious life in comparison to the unconscious life of vegetation. All sorts of animals were created. This is noted by various terms (livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals) which relate to those that man was able to tame and use and those that remained wild. The fact that certain animals such as dinosaurs have become extinct—a situation that continues to occur—does not conflict with the original creation. The creation of animals is dealt with first, but on the same day mankind was also created.

Special attention is paid to one creature who, although he could be confused with other land animals, was significantly different. Mankind became the highlight of this day and, except for the Creator himself, became the most powerful, authoritative being in all creation. His creation is treated separately from the other land creatures.

Only of this creature is it said that he was created in the image of God. The creation of "man" in the image of God refers to all mankind, not just Adam, as the pronoun them and the reference to male and female in verse 27 indicates. God and mankind share a likeness (the Hebrew terms for image and likeness are essentially synonymous terms) that is not shared by the other creatures. This likeness probably involves the personality, aesthetic appreciation, authority, moral, and spiritual qualities that both God and humans share, unlike the animals. Since God and humans share such likeness, it should not be surprising that a relationship between God and humans is a focus in the rest of Scripture. Mankind possesses a self-conscious life in which he is able to thank and worship the Creator.

Mankind's function included the subduing of the earth and all that was created and placed on it. Man found himself accountable to God from the beginning. The restriction on eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would come later. But even here in Genesis 1, he was told to be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. The command to be fruitful and increase in number is generally recognized as a command to the heads of the human race (here to Adam and Eve and again later to Noah in Gen. 9:1). It is not usually interpreted as something required of every person. This seems clear from the fact that some humans are incapable of reproducing and others can please God by not getting married (1 Cor. 7:8).

To demand that everyone should bear as many children as he or she possibly can is unscriptural. The fact that children are produced from a divinely designed sexual union affirms that this type of sexual activity is good with no hint of evil. In God's plan both a father and mother are needed to produce children. Both are also needed to raise children. Those who are forced to raise children as single parents often struggle and need special support.

God was both gracious and generous in his provision of food for man: I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. Man was originally created as a vegetarian. Only after the flood was he given animals to eat (Gen. 9:3). There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians are required to return to this preflood lifestyle of vegetarianism.

D. The Seventh Day (2:1-3)

SUPPORTING IDEA: On this day there is no need for further creation, just an enjoyment of perfection.

2:1-3. The seventh day was a climactic day on which God stopped his work of creation, since he had finished the work he had been doing. He rested and he blessed the seventh day. The mood resembled what existed in Genesis 1:1-2 (silence and calm), but the situation was totally different. The stopping of work signifies that the universe had reached a state of completion in which all required components were present. This is the only place in the Bible where God is described as resting, although rest would be held out by the author of Hebrews as a future benefit for all God's people (Heb. 4:1-11). No further creation was needed other than that which God would bring into his created order through procreation or reproduction (Gen. 1:11, 22, 28). The resting of God does not connote exhaustion, indifference, or lack of activity on God's part to maintain this world and everything in it (cp. Col. 1:17).

The blessing of Day 7 was that God set it apart as different from the other days—as a memorial to his creative work. While the command for mankind to observe the seventh day as a day of rest was part of the Mosaic covenant with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai and not with Christian believers, Scripture does teach the importance of periodic rest.


Although Christians may disagree on some aspects of the creation story, we agree that God created this world, he created it by himself, and he created it "very good."

III. Conclusion.
What a World and What a God!

Reading the creation story causes us to declare, "What a world and what a God!" To declare this requires a step of faith based on the revealed Word of God. It is the first of many steps that we as believers must take as we listen to our Creator and Redeemer reveal truth. If we accept this great truth, many other truths will follow for us. If we refuse to accept this fundamental truth, little is left for us to be sure of or to believe. May God grant us faith even as we wonder and contemplate just how God accomplished the creation.



IV. Life Application.
"The Heavens Declare the Glory of God"

An atheist once complained to a friend because Christians and Jews had their special holidays. "But we atheists," he said, "have no special day, no recognized national holiday. It's just not fair." His friend replied, "Why don't you celebrate April first?"

No one wants to be known as a fool. But a person is a fool if he doesn't acknowledge God. The Lord has not left us without evidence of his existence. Romans 1:20 explains that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Creation gives evidence in its order, design, and harmony that there is some cause for all this. And mankind must recognize that all creation points to the Creator. All of creation shouts that God exists and that he is a God of power and glory—a being worthy of worship. The fool may talk of "Mother Nature," but nature itself is powerless to produce life of any kind without the processes put into place by God himself. To substitute "Mother Nature" for "God" is to confuse the creature or creation with the Creator.

V. Prayer

God of creation, majestic in power, awesome in your design, we worship you today. We acknowledge that you were before all things, that all things came into being at your word, and that everything owes its existence to you. Thank you for your constant reminder of your power and presence in this world that you created. Amen.

VI. Deeper Discoveries

A. Title for Genesis

Each book of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) originally received its title from the first word or words in the book. For the Book of Genesis, the Hebrew word translated "in the beginning" is bereshit. So Jews know this book as the "In the Beginning" book. The English title "Genesis" transliterates the Greek word used in the Septuagint translation (Greek translation of the Old Testament). This Greek word geneseos is a translation of the key Hebrew term toledot, or "generations of." This Hebrew word is found in Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2. It is translated into the English as "account of" or "generations of" and will be more extensively treated in the next chapter.

B. Date or Length of the Creation

The period covered by the creation account is subject to much controversy. If present scientific "facts" are accepted, then the earth is about 4,500,000 years old. Interpreters who believe such "facts" are compelled to interpret the words of Scripture in light of such accepted "facts." In addition, the days of creation are seen as short, long, or unrelated to time, as can be seen in the following list.

The Hebrew word yom (day) is used three ways in Genesis 1 and 2:

  1. Twelve-hour period of daylight (Gen. 1:5, 14, 16, 18)
  2. Twenty-four-hour day (Gen. 1:14)
  3. The entire "six-day" period of creation (Gen. 2:4)

Major views about the length of the "days of creation":

  1. Literal twenty-four-hour-day view
  2. Day-age (or geologic-day) view
  3. Literal days with intervening ages view
  4. Revelatory-day view

Factors involved in making a decision:

  1. The use of the word day in Scripture (whenever the numerical adjective is used with "day," it refers to a twenty-four-hour day)
  2. The use of the word create (bara)
  3. The acknowledgment of the "facts" of scientific research
  4. The value placed on nonbiblical creation stories
  5. The place given to other scriptural "accounts" of creation (Gen. 2; Exod. 20:11; 31:17; Pss. 33:6-9; 104; Prov. 8; Isa. 45:18)

In light of these factors, it seems best to take the creation days as twenty-four-hour days. This appears to be what the author of Genesis sought to cause his readers to understand.

C. The Trinity in Genesis

The term for God in Genesis (Elohim) is analyzed as a plural noun. It can be translated "gods" as it is in a number of instances (e.g., Gen. 35:2, 4; Exod. 18:11; 20:3). The plural is usually described as a plural of majesty to denote totality and majesty but not multiplicity in keeping with the monotheistic view of God for the Israelites (Deut. 6:4). However, the word can also be taken as a term that signifies a plurality (i.e., a Trinity) within a unity of one God. This view is possible from Genesis 1:2, 26 and Isaiah 6:8. Other scriptural evidences for the Trinity found in the Old Testament include Psalms 2:7; 45:7; 110:1; Isaiah 48:16.

But it is in the New Testament that God most clearly reveals that not only is the Father to be regarded as God (Eph. 1:3) but also as the Son (John 5:18) and the Spirit (John 15:26). Formal proof of the Trinity is not found in Genesis, although the "seed" of the doctrine can be seen here. God does not move from falsehood to truth in the progression of revelation but from what is incomplete to what is more complete.

When used to indicate the true God, Elohim often describes the God who created man, who works his power in this world, and who should be the object of mankind's reverence and fear. This term is often accompanied by the term yhwh (Lord), his personal name that is used when making a covenant with his people. Elohim can also be combined with various descriptive words or phrases that function as titles.

D. Creation of Angels

The creation of angels is not mentioned in Genesis 1, just the items that are part of mankind's natural world. Some interpreters believe that Job 38:7 suggests that angels were created at the same time as the stars while others would see the angels as already created and present at the creation of the earth (and in fact that Satan had already fallen before the creation of mankind).

E. The Sabbath Day of Rest

The Hebrew word for "seventh" comes from a root meaning, "to be full, complete, entirely made up." God "blessed" the seventh day by setting it apart as different from the others. Part of bearing the image of God involves resting as he did. God established the Sabbath as a part of Jewish life (Exod. 16:23-26). But it wasn't until later, under the Mosaic Law (Exod. 20:8-11; Neh. 9:13-14), that abstinence from work was commanded. Verse 23 of Exodus 16 is the first use in the Scriptures of "Sabbath," which comes from the Hebrew word for "rested."

The Sabbath became the sign of the Mosaic covenant (Exod. 31:13). The Scripture teaches the value and importance of periodic rest (Exod. 23:10-12; Lev. 25:2-4; Deut. 15:1-18; Mark 6:31; Heb. 4:1-11). The New Testament speaks of the Christian no longer being under the Mosaic Law and especially the Sabbath (Col. 2:16-17).

VII. Teaching Outline

    1. Lead Story: The Big Bang from God's Perspective
    2. Context: As the first chapter in the Bible, Genesis 1 is the foundation of everything that will follow.
    3. Transition: Chapter 2 of Genesis will give another perspective on the creation, this one focusing especially on the creation of mankind.
    1. Creation in Summary (1:1)
    2. Initial Conditions of Creation (1:2)
    3. The Six Days of Creation (1:3-31)
    4. The Seventh Day (2:1-3)

VIII. Issues for Discussion

  1. What do we learn about God from observing the intricacies and wonders of the created world?
  2. Explain the significance and implications of the truth that humans, both male and female, are created in the image of God.
  3. What are the indications that there is chronology in the creation account of Genesis 1? How would you respond if someone stated that while the logical nature of the order of creation cannot be denied, it appears that Days 3 and 4 should be reversed since vegetation needs the sun to live?
  4. Did God use evolution to create the world? How does the Genesis account conflict with or complement modern science, specifically in its understanding of evolution?
  5. Since God created plants with their seeds present (Gen. 1:11), the original creation had some appearance of age. Even Adam at one day of age would have appeared as an adult. Does this appearance of age automatically apply to nonlife forms such as the rock formations of earth?
  6. Many ancient cultures have their own creation accounts. If you are aware of some of these, how does the Genesis account differ?