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Genesis 1

Posted by janet on April 25, 2014

Chapter 1

v. 1: Perhaps this verse is describing the process of creation in a general way, and then the description of the specific stages of creation begins in verse two.  I could describe the building of a house in a similar manner:

v. 1: Last year, I built a house.

v. 2: First I purchased all the lumber and tools and had them delivered to the building site where I surveyed them as they lay in various chaotic piles across the yard.

On the other hand, this verse may be the beginning of the description of the specific stages of creation.  If so, perhaps it is saying that God first brought heaven and earth into existence as raw material.  The rest of the chapter, then, would be a description of the succeeding stages God went through in shaping that raw material.  If the house building analogy were to reflect this reading, it would look like this:

v. 1:  When I began to build my house, I first purchased all the lumber and tools and had them delivered to the building site.

v. 2:  I then went out and surveyed all the materials as they lay in various chaotic piles across the yard.

v. 2: The depth of meaning in these initial verses in unfathomable.  Here God creates, in reality, those things that possess such metaphorical value for us in other books of the Bible:  Light, Darkness, the Sea, Time.  God’s hovering dominantly over the waters of the Abysmal Sea, for instance, continues throughout the Bible as a metaphor for God’s power over the forces of death, chaos, and evil.  Compare this with the parting of the Red Sea, with Jesus’s walking on the sea, and his calming the stormy sea.  The metaphor (as well as the reality?) reaches its fulfillment in Revelation 21:1 where John says there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but that the sea shall be no more.

v. 3: God spoke creation into existence.  This is a testament to the awesome and sublime nature of language.  John renews the testimony when he calls Christ “the Word” (Logos) in the first chapter of his gospel and in so doing links him to this part of Genesis.

Since we are made in God’s image, we too share in his power of making through language.  Our word “poet” comes from the ancient Greek word for “maker.”  Old English manifests the same principle in its word for poet: scop, a shaper or maker.  But the power God has granted us to make things with language extends well beyond poems that are sung or written.  The parent who calls his child “beautiful,” or “smart,” or “talented” really makes his son or daughter these things in a limited sense, regardless of the child’s natural gifts.  And does not the parent who calls his child “ugly,” “stupid,” or “talentless” really make his son or daughter these things in a limited sense, regardless of the child’s natural gifts?  See further notes on 2:19.

vs. 4-5: For God alone, naming and making can be synonymous in an absolute sense.[1]

Here, the making and naming of light is synonymous with separating (distinguishing) it from darkness.  He makes it by naming it, and by naming it (defining it), he distinguishes it from darkness (the absence of light).

God calls light good.  Of darkness he says nothing.  Who knows why?  Evil, by definition, is always bad, but darkness as a thing in itself is not bad.  However, because of its negative nature as the absence of light, it often appears as a metaphor for bad things:  evil (the absence of good), death (the absence of life), chaos (the absence of order), and ignorance (the absence of wisdom).  In other contexts, however, it may appear metaphorically as a good thing such as it does in Psalm 97:2, where it represents the divine attribute of impenetrable mystery:  “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him….”

I believe the statement “there was evening and there was morning, the first day” is a formulaic way of indicating the first significant division of time.  Time itself (whatever that is) began at The Beginning in verse one, and here at verse four is the first named division of it.  Who knows how long this day would have been if we had tried to measure it with a stopwatch? Time itself is an elusive concept, and, if Einstein was right, its length is relative.  Peter says that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2ndPeter 3:8).  Maybe this first day was a thousandth of a second long, or maybe it was a thousand years long.  It might even have been twenty-four hours long.  In fact, MIT Astrophysicist, Gerald Schroeder, has a very interesting theory about how it might have been.  Below I have linked to a video in which he explains his theory:

Here is his book:

Front Cover

Nevertheless, I do not understand why so many people insist, based on the text itself, that it must have been twenty-four hours long, as if the scriptures would be lying to call a division of time longer or shorter than twenty-four hours a day.  In English, we use the word “day,” which literally means a twenty-four hour period, as a metaphor for an era when we say, “In my day we did not do such things,” and we do this without lying, even though “my day” might encompass a literal period of ten years.  God does not always warn us when he is speaking literally and when he is speaking metaphorically.  As proof of this, notice how frequently Jesus confused people by his unannounced use of metaphor.  Mark 8:14-21 and John 2:18-22 are two good examples of the phenomenon.  Also, the Hebrews writer seems to suggest that we are still in the seventh day of this week even now, which would make the seventh “day” quite long indeed.  See notes on Hebrews 4:3.

v. 14: “Let them be for signs….”  Obviously, the primary intention here is that they be signs of the passage of time, but Barnes says that the Hebrew word translated here as “signs” has a very broad meaning.  Could not one aspect of its meaning be that they function as astrological signs of future events?

If one believes the story of the magi visiting the baby Jesus, then one cannot entirely discount the idea of astrology.  The word magi refers to a class of people who were, among other things, astrologers, and the magi who worshiped Christ learned of him by means of a star.

v. 20: I believe Genesis categorizes animated creation into four groups: fish (i.e., all animals living in the water) birds (all animals that fly in the air) land animals (all animals, except humans, that live on land) and humans, who rule over the other three orders of animals.  Paul seems to follow this same division in 1st Corinthians 15:39.

v. 26: I am not sure why God said, “Let us….”  Perhaps he was speaking to Christ and the Holy Spirit, or perhaps he was using the “Royal We” whereby people of high dignity often refer to themselves in the plural.  Queen Victoria, for instance, might have used this to say something like, “We are not amused” instead of “I am not amused.”  I had thought that he might have been addressing the angelic hosts, but the fact that he says that he wishes to make man “inour image” (which I take to mean God’s image, not the angels’ and God’s) persuaded me otherwise.

Everything that exists is made in the image of God.  In other words, everything that exists, whether spiritual or material, is a reflection of part(s) of his nature, just as every element of a painting reflects part(s) of the nature of its painter.  How could it be otherwise?  Therefore, the sun, the moon, the wind, the hawk, the turtle, and the cherub all are made in the image of God.  We humans reflect the nature of God in many ways that are common to other creatures, but I believe we reflect God’s nature in one particular and essential way that honors us above all the rest of creation: we have been made, collectively, to be his wife.[2] No other creatures have this honor, not even the

cherubim.  I believe this, specifically, is what Genesis means when it claims that humans are made in God’s image; thus, the essential definition of a human is “one of that class of being that has been made to be the wife of God.”

According to these first three chapters of Genesis, there are two other ways in which we are unique among the other creatures of the earth: one of these ways is our knowledge of good of evil.[3] The other way is our headship over all the other creatures of earth.  The

first of these ways is not essential to our nature.  In other words, we could lose or never have had this quality and still be human.[4] I suspect that the same could be said of the

second.  Some might argue that the prominence this verse (1:26) gives to our role as rulers implies that this role, not our role as the wife of God, is the essential quality that defines how we are made in the image of God.  However, the role of wife describes our relationship to God, which must be the most important element in defining who we are.  Our relationships to other creatures, while vital elements in defining who we are, must, necessarily, be of lesser importance.  Our roles as parents and children, teachers and students, bosses and employees, even friends and enemies may describe us or not at various points in our lives, but they do not capture the essence of who we are.  That is found only in our relationship to God.

Regarding our authority over the other creatures of the earth, I believe that we should acknowledge that this authority has been given to us by God; our rule is analogous to his, but by no means the same.  The authority he wields is his by right.  We possess ours by his leave and grace.  Thus, we are more akin to stewards than kings.  The more we forget this, the more we begin to lose our appreciation for the other creatures of the earth, thereby diminishing their joy as well as our own.  With time, such a lack of appreciation could lead to very miserable consequences indeed.

v. 27: Since both sexes are made in the image of God, I believe the nature of God ultimately transcends being male or female (as we define the terms according to our physical nature), but I also believe it is truer to think of God as a personality rather than an impersonal thing, so I do not think we should use “it” to refer to him.  After rejecting “it” we are left with “he” or “she,” and, while I would be content to use “she,” the Bible always refers to God as “he,” in spite of its occasional use of feminine imagery to describe him,[5] so I believe we should think of God as a male.  I believe the

fundamental significance of this masculine reference is lost on those who cynically conclude that God is referred to as a male only because male humans wrote the Bible.  I also believe that it is in these first three chapters of Genesis that the true significance of the masculine reference to God is most clearly explained: as a husband should be to his wife, so God is to humanity as a whole.  See notes on 2:18.

v. 28: Many have noticed how the account of the creation of humanity in chapter one differs from the account in chapter two.  For instance, here in chapter one, the creation of man and woman seems simultaneous, whereas in chapter two the man comes first.  Explanations for this difference vary.  I have heard some say that this first woman is not Eve but another woman named Lilith.  I, however, believe this is incorrect since nobody named Lilith appears anywhere else in the narrative.  Besides, proponents of this theory read these first two chapters as a continuous narrative.  In other words, they believe that Lilith was Adam’s first wife (chapter 1), that Adam rejected her, and that Eve was his second wife (chapter 2).  But reading these two chapters in this way would also require everything else to proceed in a continuous narrative, not just the story of Adam’s two wives.  How then would someone who believes Lilith was Adam’s first wife explain the second creation of land animals in 2:19?  Did Adam reject the first set of land animals in chapter one, prompting God to create a second set in chapter two?  This seems a little far fetched to me.  Others believe the woman is Eve, but that the two accounts simply contradict each other.  I do not believe this either because I think the two accounts can be reconciled in the following manner.  Chapter one is an overview of the creation of the whole universe, and chapters two and three are a detailed account of the creation of humanity on the sixth day.  Thus, in summarizing the sixth day of creation in chapter one, the writer gives the final results of that day’s events:  Man and Woman are made in the image of God, and they are to bear children.  In chapters two and three, however, he describes the order of the events by which these final results were achieved.

v. 29: I think it is very significant that no mention is made of flesh being given for food.  It is a glaring omission in a story written by Hebrews, for whom eating meat was not a sin.  It must refer to the initial, ideal state of life before sin.  At that time, there were no predators, no suffering or death.[6] Given this fact, however, it occurs to me that someone might object to my harmony of the two creation accounts[7] by pointing out

that this verse appears after God tells the humans to be fruitful and multiply.  According to my harmony, he only tells them to be fruitful after the fall; if this is correct, then the order of events was as follows:

God made the land animals;

then God made humans;[8]

then God said, “I have given you and the animals plants to eat as food;”

then humanity ate from the tree of knowledge;

and then God expelled humanity from the garden and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Had the writer been particularly interested in promoting my harmony, he might have been more careful in presenting the events in order.  I feel pretty confident, however, that he was not thinking of my harmony when he was writing these accounts.  In fact, he probably was not thinking of harmonizing the two accounts at all.  I believe he was primarily concerned with specific thematic points of interest such as the general order of creation in chapter one and the story of how humanity fell from grace in chapters two and three.  Anyway, there is nothing that I see in the wording here in 1:29 that requires the statement about eating plants to appear chronologically after the command to be fruitful and multiply.  If the verse had started with an adverb of time such as “then” (as vs. 26, 28, and 31 do) or “next,” then my case would be a little harder to prove, but as it is, I think the statement here in v. 29 could be justifiably placed before the command to be fruitful and multiply even though the verse containing the statement comes after the verse about being fruitful and multiplying.

v. 31 It may seem strange, given my theory of harmonizing the two creation accounts, [9] that God would wrap up the events of the sixth day by observing that “it was very good.”  After all, if the sixth day ends with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, it is hard to imagine his calling those circumstances “good.”  Our first sin, our fall from grace, and the entry of death and suffering into the world are all decidedly bad things, but I still believe my theory is compatible with God’s assessment of the sixth day here in v. 31.  God seems to love paradoxes.  As an example, consider the crucifixion.  If one considers only the role of humanity in the crucifixion, the murder of Christ is the ugliest and most wicked act in all of creation.  It marks humanity’s lowest point.  On the other hand, if one considers Christ’s role in the crucifixion, his sacrifice is most beautiful and loving act in all of creation.  In that sense, it marks the highest point in human history.  When God says “it was very good” at the end of the sixth day, he is describing his role in the creation:  The creation is now complete, and God’s love makes it “very good,” sublimely trumping all our sins and mistakes.  See also notes on 3:20 concerning the paradoxical curse/blessing of childbirth.


[1] See notes on 2:19.

[2] See notes on 2:18.

[3] See notes on 3:22.

[4] See notes on 2:23.

[5] For some feminine imagery of God, compare the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 3:13-14,16; 4:6;8:1,12,23,27-29 with the description of Christ as the Word in John1:1-3,14.  See also Isaiah 49:15 and Matthew 23:37.

[6] See notes also on 3:21.

[7] See notes on 1:28.

[8] See notes on 2:19.

[9] See notes on 1:28.

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