Genesis 1:1 Commentary - You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob UtleyNASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Gen 1:1-5
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Gen 1:1 “In the beginning” Bereshith (BDB 912) is the Hebrew title of the book. We get Genesis from the Septuagint translation. This is the beginning of history but not of God's activity (cf. Mat 25:34; Joh 17:5; Joh 17:25; Eph 1:4; Tit 1:2; 2Ti 1:9; 1Pe 1:19-20; Rev 13:8). R. K. Harrison says it should be translated “by way of beginning” (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 542 footnote 3). John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One says it introduces a period of time (p. 45).
▣ “God” Elohim (BDB 43) is a PLURAL form of the general name for God in the ancient Near East, El (BDB 42). When referring to the God of Israel the verb is usually (6 exceptions) SINGULAR. The rabbis say that it speaks of God as creator, provider and sustainer of all life on planet earth (cf. Psa 19:1-6; Psalms 104). Notice how often this word is used in chapter 1.
I believe that this verse is an independent clause: Ibn Ezra says that it is a dependent clause with the emphasis on Gen 1:2 while Rashi says that Gen 1:2 is a parenthesis and the emphasis is on Gen 1:3. Modern dispensational commentators say that Gen 1:1 is a dependent clause in order to support their view of a previous fall (the gap theory). Notice that there is no explanation of the origin of God. It does emphatically assert that God created matter and did not fashion existing matter (Greek cosmology). In Enuma Elish, (Babylonian creation account), like Greek thought, Spirit (which is good) and matter (which is evil) are co-eternal. The Bible does not discuss or reveal the origin of God. He has always existed (cf. Psa 90:2). There is surely mystery here. Mankind simply cannot grasp the fullness of God!
This discussion of clauses is theologically significant. The Jewish Publication Society of America has translated Gen 1:1 a temporal clause, “When God began to create the heaven and the earth‒the earth being unformed and void. . .” This translation might conclude that God and matter are co-eternal like Greek cosmology (cf. “Creation and Cosmology” in Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 5, p. 1059). The Sumerian account of creation, Enuma Elish, begins with “when in the beginning. . .” See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY
▣ “created” Bara (cf. Gen 1:1; Gen 1:21; Gen 1:27; Gen 2:3-4) is the Hebrew VERB (BDB 135, KB 153, Qal PERFECT) used exclusively for God's creative activity. Its basic meaning is to fashion by cutting. God willed into being everything but Himself. Psa 33:6; Psa 33:9; Heb 11:3 and 2Pe 3:5 present creation (cosmology) by God's spoken word (fiat) from nothing (ex nihilo), although water is never said to be created (cf. Gen 1:2). Greek (gnostic) and Mesopotamian philosophies emphasize an eternal dualism between “spirit” and “matter.” Whatever bara implies it accentuates God's activity and purpose!
The Bible asserts that creation has a beginning point. Twenty-first century science would characterize this as the “big bang.” Naturalism can now not assert an unlimited regression back in time. However, it is probable that Genesis 1 refers to the beginning of a functioning earth, not the material beginning of matter (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One).
▣ “the heavens” The word “heavens” (BDB 1029, see SPECIAL TOPIC: Heaven
1. it refers to the atmosphere of the earth as in Gen 1:8; Gen 1:20;
2. it may refer to the entire cosmos (i.e. all material existence); or
3. it may refer to the creation of all things visible (material) and invisible (angels, heaven as God's throne). If option three is true then a parallel would be Col 1:16. If not, then Genesis 1 focuses only on the creation of this planet. The Bible emphasizes a geocentric perspective (i.e. creation seen as a spectator on this planet would have observed it). Some would assert that Genesis 1 is addressing the creation of the universe (i.e. sun, moon, stars, and galaxies), while Genesis 2-3 focuses on this planet and the creation of mankind. This is surely possible because chapters 2-4 form a literary unit. In both (i.e. Genesis 1, 2-4) creation is geocentristic (i.e. earth focused).
▣ “the earth” The term (BDB 75, see SPECIAL TOPIC: Land, Country, Earth
Gen 1:2 “The earth was” This VERB (BDB 224, KB 243, Qal PERFECT) can only very rarely be translated “became.” Grammatically and contextually “was” is preferable. Don't let your (i.e dispensational premillennial) pre-suppositional theology of two falls (the gap theory) affect the exegesis of the text.
NASB “formless and void”
NKJV “without form, and void”
NRSV, NJB “a formless void”
TEV “formless and desolate”
NIV “formless and empty”
REB “a vast waste”
SEPT “invisible and unfurnished”
JPSOA “unformed and void”
These two terms are found in BDB 1062, KB 1688-1690 and BDB 96, KB 111. Does this imply water only? The earth is changing form (i.e. tectonic plates) continually (i.e. one original continent called Pangea became several continents). The question again is the age of the earth. These words appear together in Jer 4:23. They are used in the Sumerian and Babylonian accounts of creation but in a mythological sense. This state of creation shows that God used a progressive process to an inhabitable earth (cf. Isa 45:18). These two words describe, not the beginning of matter, but a state of undeveloped non-functioning orderly system (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One p. 49). It is not ready for humanity!
▣ “darkness” This term (BDB 365) does not represent evil, but original chaos. God names the darkness in Gen 1:5 as He does the light. These two terms, though often used in the Bible to denote spiritual realities, here are representing original physical conditions.
▣ “the deep” The Hebrew term is tehom (BDB 1062 #3, KB 1690-91). A similar, but different, Semitic root is personified as Tiamat in the Sumerian and Babylonian creation myths as the monster of chaos and the mother of the gods, wife of Apsu. She tried to kill all lesser gods that came forth from her. Marduk killed her. Out of her body Marduk fashioned heaven and earth in the Babylonian Genesis called Enuma Elish. The Hebrews believed that water was the beginning element of creation (cf. Psa 24:1-2; Psa 104:6; 2Pe 3:5). It is never said to have been created. However, the Hebrew term is masculine, not feminine and it is unrelated etymologically to Tiamat.
There are passages in the OT which describe YHWH in conflict with personified watery chaos (cf. Psa 74:13-14; Psa 89:9-10; Psa 104:6-7; Isa 51:9-10). However, these are always in poetical, metaphorical passages. Water is a crucial aspect of creation (cf. Gen 1:2 b,6-7).
TEV, NIV “the Spirit of God”
JPSOA “a wind from God”
NJB “a divine wind”
REB “the spirit of God”
SEPT “a breath of God”
The Hebrew term ruach (BDB 924) and the Greek term pneuma (cf. Joh 3:5; Joh 3:8, see SPECIAL TOPIC: Spirit in the Bible
NASB, TEV “moving”
NKJV, NIV “hovering”
This term (BDB 934, KB 1219, Piel PARTICIPLE) developed the connotation of “brooding” or “active hovering” (cf. JB). This is a mother bird word (cf. Exo 19:4; Deu 32:11; Isa 31:5). It is not related to Phoenician cosmology which asserts that the earth came from an egg, but a feminine metaphor for God's active parental care, as well as the development of His creation at this early stage!
Gen 1:3 “God said” This is the theological concept of creation by the spoken word, using the Latin word fiat (cf. Gen 1:9; Gen 1:14; Gen 1:20; Gen 1:24; Gen 1:29; Psa 33:6; Psa 148:5; 2Co 4:6; Heb 11:3). This has often been described as “out of nothing matter came into being using,” by God's command, using the Latin phrase ex nihilo (cf. 2Ma 7:28). However, it is probable that Genesis 1 is not about the original creation of matter but the organizing of existing matter (cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 54ff).
This power of the spoken word can also be seen in:
1. the patriarchal blessing
2. God's self accomplishing redemptive word, Isa 55:6-13, esp. Genesis 1-11
3. Jesus as the Word in Joh 1:1 and
4. Jesus as returning with a two-edged sword in His mouth (cf. 2Th 2:8; Heb 4:12; Rev 1:6; Rev 2:12; Rev 2:16; Rev 19:15; Rev 19:21). This is an idiomatic way of creation by God's will through thought and word. What God wants, occurs!
▣ “Let there be” These are JUSSIVES (cf. Gen 1:3; Gen 1:6[twice], 9[twice in meaning, not form], 11, 14, 20[twice in meaning not form], 22, 24, 26[in meaning not form]).
Gen 1:4 “God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:4; Gen 1:10; Gen 1:12; Gen 1:18; Gen 1:21; Gen 1:25; Gen 1:31) All creation was good (cf. Gen 1:31). Evil was not part of God's original creation, but a perversion of the good. “Good” here probably means “fits its purpose” (cf. Isa 41:7) or “intrinsically without flaw” (BDB 373).
▣ “God separated” This VERB (BDB 95, KB 110, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is characteristic of how God develops His creation. He divides (KJV) and starts new things (cf. Gen 1:4; Gen 1:6-7; Gen 1:14; Gen 1:18).
▣ “light” Remember that there is no sun yet. Be careful not to be dogmatic about the time sequence (i.e. 24 hours for the earth to rotate which has not been constant throughout earth's history).
Light (BDB 21) is a biblical symbol of life, purity, and truth (cf. Job 33:30; Psa 56:13; Psa 112:4; Isa 58:8; Isa 58:10; Isa 59:9; Isa 60:1-3; Joh 1:5-9; 2Co 4:6). In Rev 22:5 there is light with no sun. Also notice that darkness is created (cf. Isa 45:7) and named by God (cf. Gen 1:5) which shows His control (cf. Psa 74:16; Psa 104:20-23; Psa 139:12). John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (p. 55ff), based on Gen 1:4-5, asserts that this means “a period of light,” not the origin of the sun.
Gen 1:5 “God called” (Gen 1:8; Gen 1:10) This naming shows God's ownership and control.
▣ “And there was evening and there was morning” This order could reflect the existence of darkness before the creation of light. The rabbis interpreted this as the day as a unit of time beginning in the evening. There was dark and then there was light. This is reflected in Jesus' day also where the new day began at twilight, in the evening.
▣ “day” The Hebrew term yom (BDB 398) can refer to a period of time (cf. Gen 2:4; Gen 5:2; Rth 1:1; Psa 50:15; Psa 90:4; Ecc 7:14; Isa 4:2; Isa 11:2; Zec 4:10) but usually it refers to a 24-hour day (i.e. Exo 20:9-10).
SPECIAL TOPIC: DAY (YOM)
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You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob Utley
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