Many modern approaches to Genesis begin with the length of the days and the age of the earth as a foundational principle of interpretation or as the main interpretative point of the passage. In other words, the modern interpreter, using a scientific presupposition, declares that Genesis 1-2 is primarily a scientific text. However, the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 does not particularly highlight issues regarding length of days or the age of the earth. Rather, the emphasis is on the Lord God as the Creator of all things visible and invisible. It is apparent on a cursory reading of the text that it emphasizes God the Creator who is distinct from creation. In addition, and beyond a cursory reading, the text acts as a polemic against scientism, pantheism, Gnosticism, eternal matter, and meaninglessness. God introduces and identifies Himself as the only Creator and the One to whom all glory, honor, and worship should be given. Thus, this chapter calls us to know the Lord in order to glorify and worship the Creator who made all things from nothing by the Word of His mouth. This type of praise is frequent through the Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 33:6-9; 148:5-6; Rev. 4:11). In the context of refuting St. Augustine’s instantaneous creation view, John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, writes, “We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dulness [sic.] in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere” (Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis, 78).
God is the Primary Interest
To read Genesis 1:1-2:3 with a primary interest other than God is to misread this chapter. The term God (Hebrew, Elohim) is used thirty-five times, averaging about one time per verse. The literary pattern woven throughout also emphasizes God: And God said…and God made or called…and God saw. Since God was at the beginning, the reader must acknowledge that God existed prior to any created thing and that He is not part of the creation; He is the sovereign ruler over it. Although there is a debate as to the use of Elohim (a Hebrew plural noun), I believe it is safe to identify a veiled reference to the Triune God. It is apparent in the text that God the Father is acting in conjunction with God the Spirit (v.2); moreover, the New Testament is plain in identifying Jesus Christ as active in, even the instrument of, as well as the sustainer of creation (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:1-4).
Furthermore, God creates all invisible and visible things. In this account, two Hebrew words are used: asa, which is usually rendered ‘make’ and bara, which is usually rendered ‘create, especially from nothing by God’. In two of the Hebrew verb constructions (called stems, here Qal and Niphil), bara is usually used of God only in relation to His creation (e.g., Isa. 40:26, 28), where bara connotes either the creation of things (most instances) or situations (Isa. 45:7-8). First, God creates or makes all things visible: the earth and all things on or above it. Thus, God’s creative act rules out a pantheistic worldview since God is neither a part of the creation nor is creation an emanation of God. This distinctness between God and creation is important to make and keep as we will see in a future post.
Although it is not apparent in the text, the Bible is clear that God created all invisible things as well (Col. 1:15-17). A look at a few other Scripture passages indicates that the ‘heavens’ mentioned in Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 is the invisible realm where the angelic host reside. Nehemiah 9:5-6 (and Proverbs 8; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2) makes this distinction – “heaven of heavens, with their entire host and the earth.” That God made invisible and visible things, declaring them good (Gen. 1:31), strikes against Gnosticism which seeks for separation of spirit and matter and considers matter inherently evil.
Not only does this chapter call the reader to give praise, glory and honor to the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things visible and invisible, but also it stands as a polemic against pagan philosophies. Paul tells the Colossians to not be captured by philosophy or empty deceit (Col. 2:8). Considering this chapter as scientific in nature, the reader misses the point the polemic against pagan philosophies. The chapter serves as polemic (an argument against something) against scientism (science can explain all phenomena), pantheism (god is all things or all things emanate from god), Gnosticism/dualism (matter is inherently evil while spirit is inherently good), and that matter is eternal. Both ancient and modern people hold to these philosophies which Genesis 1 seeks to refute.
Lastly, the Creator gives meaning to history and a consummation to the future. The passing of time and events has meaning for all of creation. Time and history are moving toward a consummation. Even non-believers seem to understand this as they often remark that everything has a purpose. Inherently, man understands that life has meaning. This movement with meaning is illustrated by the prophet Isaiah in the last part of his book (40-66). Isaiah moves the reader from God’s creative acts (46:10; 48:12) to His redemptive acts (e.g., 53) to the final re-creative acts of a new heavens and earth (65-66). Truly we can say of the Creator that He works all things together for our good.
Genesis 1:1-2:3 magnifies the Lord God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, of things visible and invisible. Glorify the Creator who has done this and confess with the Church, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (Nicene Creed, paragraph 1).