Genesis 1:1 Commentary - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” - Heaven and earth have not existed from all eternity, but had a beginning; nor did they arise by emanation from an absolute substance, but were created by God. This sentence, which stands at the head of the records of revelation, is not a mere heading, nor a summary of the history of the creation, but a declaration of the primeval act of God, by which the universe was called into being. That this verse is not a heading merely, is evident from the fact that the following account of the course of the creation commences with w (and), which connects the different acts of creation with the fact expressed in Gen 1:1, as the primary foundation upon which they rest. בּרשׁיח (in the beginning) is used absolutely, like ἐν ἀρχῇ in Joh 1:1, and מראשׁיח in Isa 46:10. The following clause cannot be treated as subordinate, either by rendering it, “in the beginning when God created ..., the earth was,” etc., or “in the beginning when God created...(but the earth was then a chaos, etc.), God said, Let there be light” (Ewald and Bunsen). The first is opposed to the grammar of the language, which would require Gen 1:2 to commence with הארץ ותּהי; the second to the simplicity of style which pervades the whole chapter, and to which so involved a sentence would be intolerable, apart altogether from the fact that this construction is invented for the simple purpose of getting rid of the doctrine of a creatio ex nihilo, which is so repulsive to modern Pantheism. ראשׁיח in itself is a relative notion, indicating the commencement of a series of things or events; but here the context gives it the meaning of the very first beginning, the commencement of the world, when time itself began. The statement, that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, not only precludes the idea of the eternity of the world a parte ante, but shows that the creation of the heaven and the earth was the actual beginning of all things. The verb בּרא, indeed, to judge from its use in Jos 17:15, Jos 17:18, where it occurs in the Piel (to hew out), means literally “to cut, or new,” but in Kal it always means to create, and is only applied to a divine creation, the production of that which had no existence before. It is never joined with an accusative of the material, although it does not exclude a pre-existent material unconditionally, but is used for the creation of man (Gen 1:27; Gen 5:1-2), and of everything new that God creates, whether in the kingdom of nature (Num 16:30) or of that of grace (Exo 34:10; Psa 51:10, etc.). In this verse, however, the existence of any primeval material is precluded by the object created: “the heaven and the earth.” This expression is frequently employed to denote the world, or universe, for which there was no single word in the Hebrew language; the universe consisting of a twofold whole, and the distinction between heaven and earth being essentially connected with the notion of the world, the fundamental condition of its historical development (vid., Gen 14:19, Gen 14:22; Exo 31:17). In the earthly creation this division is repeated in the distinction between spirit and nature; and in man, as the microcosm, in that between spirit and body. Through sin this distinction was changed into an actual opposition between heaven and earth, flesh and spirit; but with the complete removal of sin, this opposition will cease again, though the distinction between heaven and earth, spirit and body, will remain, in such a way, however, that the earthly and corporeal will be completely pervaded by the heavenly and spiritual, the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, and the earthly body being transfigured into a spiritual body (Rev 21:1-2; 1Co 15:35.). Hence, if in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, “there is nothing belonging to the composition of the universe, either in material or form, which had an existence out of God prior to this divine act in the beginning” (Delitzsch). This is also shown in the connection between our verse and the one which follows: “and the earth was without form and void,” not before, but when, or after God created it. From this it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning. At the same time it is obvious from the creative acts which follow (vv. 3-18), that the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; just as Euripides applies the expression οὐρανὸς καὶ γαῖα to the undivided mass (οπφὴμία), which was afterwards formed into heaven and earth.
Consult other comments:
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Franz Delitzsch (1813 – 1890) was a German Lutheran theologian and Hebraist. Delitzsch wrote many commentaries on books of the Bible, Jewish antiquities, Biblical psychology, as well as a history of Jewish poetry, and works of Christian apologetics. Today, Delitzsch is best known for his translation of the New Testament into Hebrew (1877), and his series of commentaries on the Old Testament published with Carl Friedrich Keil.