(Read Part 1.)
The Bible’s Opening Verse
As has often been observed, the opening verse of the Bible does not give an argument for the existence of God. In line with its claim to be the Word of God, it assumes a position of Divine authority immediately. Scripture has the right to tell us! It does not pander to our fallen desire for proof. The proof is in the address. God will eventually reveal Himself as the “I Am”—the self-existent and self-contained One. He does not argue His creatures into admitting that designation. It is assumed at once.
When we open the Bible we are straight away presented with a choice. The choice is between the claims of God as Creator or the claims of our own autonomy. This claim to higher authority never desists in the narrative, and in every place where autonomy is portrayed, the consequences of getting our authorities mixed up is dire.
“God created.”(Gen. 1:1). This is a creation ex nihilo (from nothing), not a creation ex materia (from preexisting materials). The verb bara (“created”) always refers to God as Creator; never to other makers of things. He is “before all things.”1 There is no dualistic character to the universe: God and matter. Matter is the stuff of the material world, but it is itself brought into being by the living God, who alone is eternal. This is in distinct opposition to all other creation stories, ancient and modern.
Even the myth of stellar evolution and the Big Bang,2 which can only be fitted into the Creation story with violence, must itself give to dead matter what it needs to construct itself into stars and galaxies, planets and fauna. Seen this way, the Word of God begins as a straight-ahead challenge to the word of man. Gerald Bray has observed,
[A]lmost all of the major church fathers wrote commentaries on the creation narrative in Genesis, because they understood that the Christian doctrine of creation was antithetical to what most ancient philosophers taught about the origin and nature of matter. 3
The “heavens and the earth” form an independent phrase, which indicates the likelihood that the first verse is a summary statement of what comes next.4 There is more than a hint of a kind of inclusio with 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.”5 What was begun in 1:1 is “completed” in 2:1. But, as we shall shortly see, this completion was not consummation.
A popular teaching in some circles is to see a time gap intervening between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Exegetically speaking there is no warrant for such a thing.6 We ought never to allow pressure from the world to force upon us any rash employment of our imaginations, all for the sake of interposing our accommodations to naturalistic science.
The Word of God will often disagree with those who look at things independently.7 Any attempt to separate the first two verses by millions and billions of years is based on misunderstandings of a few passages in the Prophets and cannot be countenanced from Scripture. Moreover, as with any intrusion of unscriptural reason, these overtures to contemporary science end up creating problems down the road. The same must be said for “analogical” and framework interpretations. The Bible as it stands supports nothing but a recent creation of the universe.8
Disorder but not Distortion
From the second verse onwards the perspective is that of an observer from planet earth, the place of the writer, although it is not the place of the true Author. Moses9 is writing here about things no human being witnessed. His Source is the Creator.
The amorphous mass which became our planet is described as “without form and void” (Gen. 1:2). Another way to translate the words is “unformed and unfilled.” The material is now there, but it has not as yet been fashioned into anything. There is a disorder of raw matter, but the intention is to order it and to form it.
Next we read about “the deep.” Whether “the deep” (tehom) refers to the unformed earth, or the material that would become the universe is unclear, but we prefer the latter view. We think it is the same as “the waters”.10 Whatever, it should not be interpreted by creation myths like Enuma Elish, which pictures the god Marduk slaying Tiamat, the chaos/water goddess.11 It is only to be expected that distortions of the true story will feature their gods striving with the primordial god from whose corpse (and the corpses of her monsters) the world and its creatures were made,12 but it would be wise to let the Bible tell us what really happened.13 As one writer has put the matter:
Striking for those grounded in ancient Near Eastern traditions is the tame inertness of this chaos. This is no monstrous horror with whom the creator God must war—no Tiamat, Yam, Leviathan, Rahab.14
1 Colossians 1:16. This verse refers to Jesus, who is divine, and for whom God made the world. This is a vital truth which shall be developed in detail below.
2 And I might add the multiverse views, which are based on nothing but speculation in apologetic service of evolutionary dogma. The many-worlds theories should have had a terminal meeting with Occam’s Razor long before now.
3 Gerald Bray, “The Church Fathers and Biblical Theology,” in Out of Egypt, ed. Craig Bartholomew et al, 25. He continues on by saying that “Almost no one” today would be prepared to follow Augustine in his belief in a relatively recent six day process. As the present writer qualifies as a “no one” he is happy to demur.
4 See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC, 15
5 There is a chiasmus between 1:1 and 2:4a.
6 This was the teaching called “The Gap Theory” propounded by many early dispensationalists among others. A “gap” has also been rather conveniently found by modern evangelical theistic evolutionists.
7 The Apostle Paul says this in, for example, 1 Cor. 1:20-21 and 2 Cor. 5:16, where he contrasts the knowledge perspectives of the redeemed with the lost.
8 Others are free to differ. I only wish they would state plainly what is informing their decision to reject a literal six-day creation. If they state that it is the pronouncements of modern science, they ought to make it clear that this is what drives their interpretations, and not the words of Moses.
9 I take for granted that Moses was the human author of the Pentateuch. Although I recognize that other authors and editors helped to shape it into the inspired work we possess. See on this, John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, though not everyone will agree with his notion of a “Pentateuch 2.0.”
10 As per Wenham, Ibid. 16.
11 Bernhard W. Anderson, From Creation To New Creation: Old Testament Perspectives, 30. See also Victor P. Hamiltion, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 110-111.
12 Walton rightly points out that ancient narratives such as Enuma Elish are not properly “creation narratives”. Rather they speak more to the function or operation of what existed in a chaotic state. And he wants to understand Genesis 1 the same way. See John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 30-34. However, it does not follow that we are to take our cue from these ancient accounts in our dealings with Genesis 1, which is a creation account. For a corrective of Walton, see John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among The Myths, 99-103.
13 Contra Bruce Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 13-15. Others who follow suit include Dumbrell, Beale and Merrill.
14 W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal, 24.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.