Bibles

Verses of Genesis 1

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Genesis 1:1 Commentary - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)

I. PRIMEVAL EVENTS 1:1-11:26

Chapters 1-11 provide an introduction to the Book of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and the whole Bible.

"What we find in chaps. 1-11 is the divine initiation of blessing, which is compromised by human sin followed by gracious preservation of the promise: blessing-sin-grace." [Note: Mathews, p. 60.]

"His [Moses’] theological perspective can be summarized in two points. First, the author intends to draw a line connecting the God of the Fathers and the God of the Sinai covenant with the God who created the world. Second, the author intends to show that the call of the patriarchs and the Sinai covenant have as their ultimate goal the reestablishment of God’s original purpose in Creation." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 19. Cf. Mathews, p. 77.]

"Evidently an interest in the way in which the world and humankind came into existence and in the history of the earliest times was characteristic of the ancient civilized world. At any rate, various ’origin stories’ or ’creation myths’ about the activities of a variety of creator-gods are still extant in what remains of the literatures of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. But the combination of such accounts with narratives about more recent times testifies to an additional motivation. The aim of such works was to give their readers-or to strengthen-a sense of national or ethnic identity, particularly at a time when there was for some reason a degree of uncertainty or hesitation about this. . . .

"The placing of Genesis 1-11 as a prologue to the main body of the work also afforded the opportunity to express certain distinctively Israelite articles of faith which it would have been more difficult to introduce into the later narratives, particularly with regard to the doctrine of God." [Note: Whybray, pp. 36-37. See Gordon H. Johnston, "Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:658 (April-June 2008):178-94.]

"Genesis 1-11 as we read it is a commentary, often highly critical, on ideas current in the ancient world about the natural and supernatural world. Both individual stories as well as the final completed work seem to be a polemic against many of the commonly received notions about the gods and man. But the clear polemical thrust of Genesis 1-11 must not obscure the fact that at certain points biblical and extrabiblical thought are in clear agreement. Indeed Genesis and the ancient Near East probably have more in common with each other than either has with modern secular thought." [Note: Wenham, p. xlvii.]

A. The story of creation 1:1-2:3

God created the entire universe and then formed and filled it in six days. He brought order and fullness for humankind to enjoy and to rule over. He then blessed and set apart the seventh day as a memorial of His creative work. [Note: Ross, Creation and Blessing, has influenced this and subsequent introductory and concluding summaries of the major sections of the text, though I have not always footnoted his views, as I have done here.] The God of Israel, the deliverer of His people, is the creator of all that exists.

". . . Gen 1:1 to Gen 2:4 a is clearly recognizable as a unit of historical narrative. It has an introduction (Gen 1:1), a body (Gen 1:2 to Gen 2:3) and a conclusion (Gen 2:4 a)." [Note: John H. Sailhamer, "Exegetical Notes: Genesis 1:1-2:4a," Trinity Journal 5 NS (Spring 1984):74. This article outlines some principles to use in finding the writer’s intent and purpose in selecting the events he chose to record in historical narratives. It provides an excellent introduction to the interpretation of historical narrative. ]

Historical narrative is one of several biblical types of literature (French genre). Other genre include genealogy, poetry, epistolary, and apocalyptic. [Note: See Steven D. Mathewson, "Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:616 (October-December 1997):410-35, for help in preaching narrative portions of the Old Testament.]

"Genre is of crucial importance, since the reader’s identification of a text’s genre directs his or her reading strategy . . ." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 29. See ibid., pp. 29-31, for clarification of genre.]

"For the most part, its [the Old Testament’s] contents may be described under two rubrics: stories and poems." [Note: Ibid., p. 25.]

"The creation account is theocentric, not creature centered. Its purpose is to glorify the Creator by magnifying him through the majesty of the created order. The passage is doxological as well as didactic, hymnic as well as history. ’God’ is the grammatical subject of the first sentence (Gen 1:1) and continues as the thematic subject throughout the account." [Note: Mathews, p. 113.]

"The prose narratives of the Old Testament are multifunctional. Most intend to impart historically accurate information while leading the reader to a deeper theological understanding of the nature of God and his relationship with his people." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 34.]

1. An initial statement of creation 1:1

There are three major views concerning the relationship of Gen 1:1 to the rest of the creation account.

1.    Gen 1:1 describes an original creation of the universe. God began fashioning the earth as we know it in Gen 1:2 or Gen 1:3. This view may or may not involve a gap in time between Gen 1:1-2. [Note: Advocates of this view include Kidner; C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch, vol. 1; G. H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages and Their Connection with Modern Spiritualism and Theosophy; Thomas Chalmers, Posthumous Works of the Rev. Thomas Chalmers, vol. 1; Arthur Custance, Without Form and Void; et al.] Some advocates of this view believe that the original creation became chaotic as a result of divine judgment. More information on this theory follows in my comments on Gen 1:2.

 

2.    Gen 1:1 describes part of what God did on the first day of creation (Gen 1:1-5). It is a general statement followed by specific details. [Note: Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis; Wenham; John Davis, From Paradise to Prison; et al.]

 

3.    Gen 1:1 describes what God did on all six days of creation (Gen 1:2-31). It is a topic sentence that introduces the whole creation account that follows. [Note: George Bush, Notes on Genesis; Edward J. Young, Studies in Genesis One; Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos; idem, Genesis; Ross; Hamilton; et al.] I prefer this view.

The "beginning" is the beginning of the creation of the cosmos, not the beginning of all things (cf. Mar 1:1; Joh 1:1). This appears to be clear from the context. Genesis has been called "the book of beginnings" because it records the beginning of so many things. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as a book of foundations.

The Hebrew word translated "God" (’elohim) is a plural noun. The plurality simply adds intensification to the name El, as does the personal pronoun "us" in Gen 1:26. Hebrew is the only ancient Semitic language that intensifies nouns and pronouns by making them plurals. The writers of Scripture used ’elohim as a title of honor. Though it is a plural in form, it is singular in meaning when referring to the true God. This name represents the Creator’s transcendent relationship to His creation.

"The Hebrew word translated ’God’ (’elohim) may be used as a plural noun and be translated ’gods.’ But when this word is used of true God, then it is not a plural but is an intensified noun, exhausting the meaning of the underlying root (’alah) which means ’to be powerful.’ He ’us.’ When used of God, this is not really a plural (despite the common translation); it is a similar intensification of the pronoun which describes God." [Note: E-mail from Ronald B. Allen, August 31, 2006.]

The "heavens and earth" refer to the universe as we know it (i.e., the sky above with all that is in it and the earth below). There is no one word in Hebrew for "universe." This is a figure of speech (merism) for totality; God created everything. The translators often rendered the Hebrew word ’eres (earth) as "land." By translating it this way here we can see that Moses wanted his readers to realize that God created and therefore owned all land (cf. Gen 12:7 and all subsequent references to the Promised Land; Psa 24:1). [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 19.]

This verse is important because it contradicts six popular philosophies:

1.    Atheism-God does exist.

2.    Pantheism-God is distinct from His creation.

3.    Polytheism-"Created" is singular in the text. An obvious difference between the biblical account of creation and those of other ancient Near Eastern cultures is that the biblical account is monotheistic.

4.    Radical materialism (matter is eternal)-Matter had a supernatural origin (emphasis on origin).

5.    Naturalism (evolutionism)-Creation took place when someone outside nature intervened (emphasis on process).

6.    Fatalism-A personal God freely chose to create.

God created the universe from nothing (Latin ex nihilo). While the text does not state this fact per se, the reader can deduce it from the following evidence. The phrase "in the beginning" implies it, as do the Hebrew word for "create" (bara) and the expression "formless and void." New Testament passages also support this conclusion (e.g., Joh 1:3; Rom 4:17; and Heb 11:3). [Note: See Jack Cottrell, "The Doctrine of Creation from Nothing," The Seminary Review 29:4 (December 1983):157-75.]

The emphasis in this verse is on the origin of the universe. God created it. [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr.’s article, "The Literary Form of Genesis 1-11," in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, pp. 48-65, is of great value in understanding and responding to the major critical attacks on Genesis 1-11.] He alone is eternal, and everything else owes its origin and existence to Him. [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 20.]

Verses of Genesis 1

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Consult other comments:

Genesis 1:1 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 1:1 - Calvin's Complete Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Genesis 1:1 - B.H. Carroll's An Interpretation of the English Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Through the Bible Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Genesis 1:1 - College Press Bible Study Textbook Series

Genesis 1:1 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Genesis 1:1 - James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)

Genesis 1:1 - Expositors Bible Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Genesis 1:1 - Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Genesis 1:1 - Expositor's Dictionary of Text by Robertson

Genesis 1:1 - F. B. Hole's Old and New Testaments Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - F.B. Meyer's Through the Bible Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Discovering Christ In Selected Books of the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Gaebelein's Annotated Bible (Commentary)

Genesis 1:1 - Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books

Genesis 1:1 - Geneva Bible Notes

Genesis 1:1 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - The Great Texts of the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Genesis 1:1 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Biblical Illustrator Edited by Joseph S. Exell

Genesis 1:1 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Genesis 1:1 - The Popular Commentary on the Bible by Kretzmann

Genesis 1:1 - A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical by Lange

Genesis 1:1 - Neighbour's Wells of Living Water

Genesis 1:1 - Mackintosh's Notes on the Pentateuch

Genesis 1:1 - An Exposition on the Whole Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - Grant's Numerical Bible Notes and Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Genesis 1:1 - Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Genesis 1:1 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Genesis 1:1 - The Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Edited by Joseph S. Exell

Genesis 1:1 - The Complete Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 1:1 - The Bible of the Expositor and the Evangelist by Riley

Genesis 1:1 - The Sermon Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Genesis 1:1 - Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 1:1 - John Trapp's Complete Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Genesis 1:1 - The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Genesis 1:1 - You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob Utley

Genesis 1:1 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)