1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [NASB ‘77]
Teaching through the Creation account is fraught with dangerous potholes. Perhaps no other portion of scripture has been the source of more controversy and divergent interpretation than the first two chapters of Genesis. Every Christian, it seems, has an opinion of how best to understand it and typically those opinions are held strongly. In some ways it is like eschatology in that there are wide areas of interpretation and conjecture, but those areas do not stop people from being dogmatic about their beliefs.
Some of the dogma stems from the continual assault the creation account has come under over the last 150 years. Ever since Darwin Genesis 1 has been ridiculed and questioned more than any other event recorded in scripture. This causes many Christians to take a ‘circle-the-wagons’ approach to the story and form hardened opinions that the text perhaps does not justify. These opinions tend to stifle disagreement because to disagree with a traditional or long-held view may be the first step down a slippery slope toward evolution or naturalism.
On the other hand there are also many believers who have never really struggled through the implications of their beliefs about creation. Many long-time Christians – especially those saved as children – may come to the study having never thought through all the issues the story brings up or how interpretative differences radically effect the overall view of the text. It is easy to accept the Sunday-School-felt-board view of creation without considering what the text actually says and that any view prompts as many questions as it answers.
With all of this in mind we will approach the study with the following goals:
- Motivate all of us to think through things we perhaps have taken for granted without really considering the ramifications of our belief, and encourage us to consider our beliefs in light of what the text actually says.
- Make the different views and textual interpretations as clear and easy to understand as possible. So much of what is written about Genesis 1 and 2 is technical and confusing, or leaves gaping holes in its commentary. We will study the text with the idea that anyone should be able to understand at least the big issues, and address the questions the differing interpretations bring up (regardless of whether or not we can answer them).
- Make it clear that differing opinions about the creation story are OK. As Christians we must agree on 1:1 (not the interpretative issues about where the verse falls in the story, but that God is eternal and created the universe and all that is in it). Beyond that true believers can disagree. The account has too many areas open to interpretation to dogmatically assert that one belief is the only way. It is OK to have strong opinions and to defend those opinions, but to not allow for uncertainties in the text is to refuse to read it as it is. And in the end, as long as we agree that God is the eternal Creator, does it matter to our world/life view and our walk with our heavenly Father what we think about the age of the earth, or whether the days in Genesis 1 are 24 hours or billions of years long?
This is not to say that the study is unimportant. It is crucial to understand the creation story and at least be aware of the issues involved. It is the basis of everything else in the Bible (as covered in our Genesis Introduction). Its importance can be seen in its repeated targeting by the world. The fact that it is so vehemently classified as myth and that schools have been forbidden to teach it and that to believe it is not seen as a simple difference in opinion but as a dangerous view that must be stamped out (e.g. the protests over the opening of the Creation Museum), shows the priority the Enemy places on discrediting it. Take away God as Creator, and human accountability and the need for redemption go away too. God cannot be Judge or Redeemer without first being Creator.
That said, it is important for Christians not to take the same approach to naturalistic views of the origins of the universe as the naturalists take to the Bible. Ridiculing evolution or acting as if the scientific community is made up of fools does nothing to further the gospel. Evolution (not theistic evolution) is obviously an attempt to take God out of creation, but it is not promulgated by non-thinking people. To treat those who teach and believe it as if they are misguided simpletons is to shortchange the science behind it and render a whole group of people unreachable for Christ.
Views of the Creation Account
It is always somewhat of a copout to claim that difficult issues associated with a text are outside the scope of the current study. However, in the case of differing views of Creation and all the issues the views bring up, it is clear that the time it would take to give them all an appropriate hearing is beyond the interest of what we want to accomplish. Copout is exactly what we are going to do. This study will not try to come to a conclusion as to which view is the most valid – the time, expertise, and research required for such a study are not available. It is good, however, to at least have a cursory knowledge of the main interpretations in order to facilitate a personal belief. As we go through the text we will point out ways the different views interpret the issues at hand so we will touch on each of them that way even if we do not try to investigate them fully. The following list is not comprehensive but shows the main views:
- Young Earth/24 hour View – God created the universe in six literal, 24-hour days and the earth is roughly 6000-10,000 years old (this is the view most at odds with science).
- Day-Age View – the days in Genesis 1 were actually long time periods and the earth and universe are billions of years old.
- Literary Framework – the days in Genesis 1 were a framework Moses used to tell the story and were not literal, sequential solar days.
- Gap Theory – God created a perfect world in Genesis 1:1 but it was spoiled by the fall of Satan and effectively destroyed, which was its state when God began to restore it in verse 2.
- Functional Creation – the Creation story is not meant to be a comprehensive record of God’s creation of the material universe; it is a record of God bringing order to chaos and establishing functions while preparing the earth to be man’s dwelling place and God’s temple.
Each of these interpretations answers questions and prompts questions. Each has holes and each has much to recommend it. Interestingly, even for someone who approaches one or another of them skeptically, reading a defense of the view by one of its authoritative adherents can typically sway an opinion to its side. There are so many areas open to interpretation that any of these views can seem valid by themselves. It is usually when comparing one to another that questions about any one of them arise.
The essential meaning of this verse is what believers must agree and hold to. In the beginning God – God is eternal with no beginning and no end – created the heavens and the earth – God created the universe and all creatures, beings, and things that are in it. Nothing was created that was not created by God. Nothing came into being by chance and nothing came into being on its own. God purposely created everything.
We know from John and Colossians that the agent of creation was Jesus. John says Jesus was in the beginning with God and that all things came into being by Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn 1:1-3). Paul adds that Jesus is not only the One who created but also the reason for creation – For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him (Col 1:16). Jesus is the means of creation and the purpose of creation.
Jesus is also the Sustainer of creation – And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:17). The Son did not set the world in motion and then sit back to observe. God did not simply establish natural laws that allowed Him to put the world on autopilot and then occasionally intervene in human history. No – the Son holds all things together (see also Job 12:10, Acts 17:28). God does not need to intervene in human events because He constantly controls human events. He does not step in because He is never out to begin with. [This has huge implications for how I view my life and circumstances. If my car does not start it may be because I neglected to change the battery when it needed it. But it also means that God decided that at this point in time my car would not start. If God holds all things together and sustains all things and is involved in all things, then my circumstances are not merely cause and effect or good/bad luck – they are ordained by God.]
So if God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, that means He is supreme over all things and can order all things. It means nothing is worthy of worship other than Him. It means He alone can establish what is righteous, beautiful, just, and good as well as evil and wrong. God alone sets the rules and His standards are all that matter regardless of man’s corrupted view of them.
It also means creation has a purpose. The universe is not here by chance. There was not a big bang that just happened and enabled the world to form. Thus existence has meaning. This goes back to Paul’s words in Colossians – all things have been created by Him and FOR HIM. God as Creator means man lives with a purpose higher than himself. We are not here because of a random chain of events but because an eternal, omniscient Being decided we would be. And He created us to have relationship with and glorify Him. We exist FOR HIM. So along with giving us understanding about the world, Genesis 1:1 informs us that we have great privilege and responsibility. We are not accidents or lucky beneficiaries of billions of years of chance – we are creatures living in a world purposefully created to bring glory to the Creator and to enable us to have relationship with Him. Living apart from that purpose violates the created order.
The essential meaning of verse 1 is critical to all Christians. Where the verse falls in the creation story, however, is subject to debate. Consider the following:
- Verse 1 shows the first step in creation on the first day. This is the young earth view and the one taught to most Christians brought up on the King James Version. God created the heavens and the earth, but the earth was formless and void and dark until He brought forth light – all on the first day. The first day includes verses 1-5.
- Verse 1 shows the first step in creation but it occurred before the first day. God created the heavens and the earth but He did so sometime before He began the six days of creation. In this view verses 1-2 describe events that take place before the first day which begins in verse 3. This view allows for an older earth and is typically associated with day-age proponents (it could also technically be held by those who believe in 24-hour days but do not insist on a young earth – this view may not exist).
- Verse 1 is not the first step in creation but is a summary heading of the whole account. In this interpretation verse 1 could read – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and here is how He did it” (beginning in this view does not refer to a point in time but to the duration of the whole chapter). This view has the advantage of according with the format of the rest of the book. As pointed out in the Introduction, the book is arranged around summary headings (typically having to do with generations and genealogies) introducing new stories and events. Reading verse 1 as a summary allows for the Creation account to be set off by 1:1 and 2:1 – both using the same heavens and earth It also flows with 2:4 which introduces the detailed account of the sixth day. The difficulty with this view is what it means for verse 2. If verse 1 is not actually the first creative act it means the formless and void earth just appears in the story without any word about its origin. As stated in the overview of the book, however, this is not necessarily outside the norm for Genesis. If the origin of the uninhabitable earth is not critical to the story then it is no problem to leave it out.
The interpretation of this verse governs how the reader sees the rest of the chapter. It does not, however, dramatically change anyone’s theology. The critical fact is that God created all things. Whether He started in verse 1 or actually started sometime between verse 1 and verse 2 does not alter our essential beliefs.
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3 “Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
5 Who set its measurements, since you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
6 “On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?