Chapter 1.
The Creation

Genesis 1:1-5, 20-31; 2:1-9, 15-25

God Forms, Then Fills

Genesis 1:1-5, 20-31

Establishing the Groundwork

Genesis is not merely the first book in the Bible. It stands as the first book in a five-book section of the Old Testament that includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This group of books is called by a variety of names: the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses, the Books of the Law, and the Torah (a Hebrew word meaning "instruction"). Part of the purpose of these books is to tell the story of the origins of the nation of Israel. With this purpose in view, we can understand that Genesis serves as an introduction to the great events surrounding the establishment of the nation of Israel found in Exodus.

More than this, however, Genesis also explains the purpose for every human being. With the simple yet profound words of Genesis 1:1, one of the grandest, most significant doctrines in all of Scripture is introduced. Without the biblical doctrine of creation, man is left to see himself as the product of blind force and chance. He is virtually alone in a universe without meaning and purpose.

Included in the Genesis record is the creation of the first man and woman in the image of God their Creator. The tragedy of Genesis is that humanity rebelled against God, and what the Creator had declared as "very good" (Genesis 1:31) became ravaged by sin. Later the focus of Genesis turns to Abram's response to God's call to become father of the nation of Israel. This is pivotal because God planned to use one of his descendants (Jesus) to redeem humanity from the bondage of sin. Thus the contents of Genesis unfold the drama of humanity's origins and humanity's eventual deliverance from its self-caused alienation from the Creator of the universe. The stage could be no bigger, the stakes no higher.

While we often speak of the "Genesis account" of creation, the theme of creation is prominent throughout the Scriptures. The command to the Israelites to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day was grounded in the creation week (Exodus 20:8-11). Significant portions of the book of Job (chapters 38-41), the Psalms (8; 19:1-6; 33:6; 139:14-16; 148; and especially 104), and the prophets (Isaiah 40:26, 28; 42:5; 45:12, 18; Jeremiah 10:10-13; Amos 4:13; 5:8; 9:6; Malachi 2:10) call attention to the glory and majesty of all that God has created. Jesus often referred to events found in the early chapters of Genesis and treated them as historical events, not fables or myths. (Note the examples in Matthew 19:4, 5; 23:35; 24:37-39.) Recall how Paul, in presenting the gospel to the philosophers at the Areopagus, began by proclaiming "the God who made the world and everything in it" (Acts 17:24).

While no specific claim of authorship appears in Genesis, the claims of the authorship of Moses are very clear in the other four books of the Pentateuch. Most likely Moses was the author of Genesis, though he could well have used certain sources in compiling the contents. At some point direct revelation from God was involved, since the account of God's creative activity could be known through no other means.

Through the years, some have denied Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch, claiming instead that various documents were woven together over time by unknown editors and reached their final form several hundred years after the time of Moses. This explanation must remain unacceptable to those who respect the claims and evidence of the Scriptures themselves. It was only fitting that Moses, as the leader of the Israelite nation when it emerged from four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, be given an authoritative record of origins so that God's people would know the truth about such matters and be able to counter the pagan records that they would confront in the process of conquering and living in the Promised Land. Today Genesis can serve a similar purpose in affirming that human beings are not the product of a random process of development, but have immeasurable value as individuals made in the image of God.

Examining the Text

I. In the Beginning (Genesis 1:1, 2)

A. Creation Introduced (v. 1)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The fact of divine creation is affirmed in the opening statement of Scripture. Debate over the "how" or "when" should not overshadow the primary emphasis of this verse: the entire universe owes its existence to the will and power of Almighty God. The existence of God is not explained or analyzed; it is simply set forth as a foundational truth of Scripture. Ultimately it is a matter of faith (Hebrews 11:3); however, the evidence for believing in God as Creator is far more substantial than the evidence for not believing.

It is saddening to listen to the attempts of those who would omit God from any consideration of the world, its purpose, or its future. To imagine our universe as the product of a series of accidents or of mere chance is an insult to a person's intelligence. In no other area of thought is such illogical thinking demonstrated. To attempt to explain the existence of all things without considering God as at least a possible factor is unreasonable on the face of it.

The word for God in this first verse of the Bible is the Hebrew word Elohim. It is commonly understood to be from a word denoting strength or power, and thus it indicates the Lord as the strong one. The word is plural in form, yet it is used with singular verbs. This indicates that it does not refer to many gods, but to the one God only. Some believe this usage to reflect a plural of majesty, or of excellence. That the word is plural is also not out of keeping with the concept of the Godhead as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (See the later comments on Genesis 1:26.)

B. Initial Chaos (v. 2)

2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This verse describes the state of the earth before order was established. Later distinctions and specializations would be made: light and darkness; air and water; dry land and seas; plants and animals, and others. The work of the Spirit of God in creation is emphasized here. In the New Testament we find that Jesus was also involved in the creation (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:2).

Some have suggested that there is an enormous time span between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This "gap theory" of creation holds that Satan and his followers were defeated during this time, and in the process the original created order was ruined. Dinosaurs, animals evidenced by the fossil records, and "cave men" are all relegated to the time of the "first creation." The events described after Genesis 1:2 refer to an alleged second creation. This approach, also called the re-creation view or the ruin-reconstruction view, seeks to harmonize modern scientific belief in an old earth with a literal approach to the events recorded in Genesis.

However, nowhere in Scripture is there any firm indication that Genesis speaks of two creations. In fact, certain Scriptures cause serious problems for the gap theory. For example, Exodus 20:11 says, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea, and all that is in them." In other words, everything was created within the six days described in Genesis; there appears to be no room for any previous creative activity in the biblical account.

Perhaps more damaging to the theory is Romans 5:12, which says, "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." Under the gap theory, death would have occurred before Adam's sin. But Paul's statement is clear that there was no death prior to Adam's sin. Thus the gap theory, while it may appear to provide another way of understanding the creation account, challenges other important biblical teaching. It is far more preferable to view Genesis 1 as describing a single period of creation.

II. Day One (Genesis 1:3-5)

A. God's Command (v. 3)

3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Could there be a more profound and magnificent expression of the authority and power of Almighty God than that reflected in this simple verse? And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. There is no employment of magic such as is reflected in some of the creation myths of the ancients. There is none of the violence among the gods that characterizes other creation accounts. Rather, by a simple expression of the divine will, light is called forth. "For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm" (Psalm 33:9).

As one reads this verse, a question may come to mind: how could light be created on the first day when it was not until the fourth day that God made the sun, moon, and stars? Perhaps God's intention on this first day was to create light in a general sense in order to dispel the darkness mentioned in verse 2. (The next verse seems to indicate this.) Then the more specific sources of light would have been created on the fourth day (vv. 14-19).

B. God's Action (v. 4)

4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

All that God made was good, including man. The idea that the material world is inherently evil was held by some of the ancient philosophers. But this is not the teaching of the Bible.

At this point, God separated the light from the darkness. This seems to indicate that God set the earth to rotate upon its axis so that day and night were the result, as the next verse tells us.

C. God's Designation (v. 5)

5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

The Hebrews reckoned their days from evening to evening, and this may be the reason for describing the first day as evening, then morning. However, it may be that evening is mentioned first because the darkness preceded the light.

III. Day Five (Genesis 1:20-23)

The six days of creation can be divided into two groups of three. During the first three days, God created what we might call the territories where created objects or creatures should go; then during the last three days he created the objects and creatures to fill the space he had made. Note, according to the chart below, the correspondence between the first three days and the last three. One writer has called the first three days "days of forming," and the last three, "days of filling." This reflects an orderly process, the like of which is not found in any other ancient accounts of how the world began.

Days of Forming Days of Filling
1 light 4 sun, moon, stars
2 heavens 5 fish, birds
3 earth, vegetation 6 land animals, man
A. God Creates (vv. 20, 21)

20, 21 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

The phrase let the water teem captures well the incredible quantity and variety of aquatic life. The same Hebrew term that is here translated living creatures is also used to describe man in Genesis 2:7, where it is rendered "living being." As we shall see, it is the fact that man is created in the image of God that distinguishes him from all other living creatures in God's creation.

Note also the important phrase according to their kinds, which appears elsewhere in Genesis 1 (vv. 11, 12, 24, 25). Whatever biological class is designated by a "kind" (whether a species or a broader group), the various kinds of creatures did not evolve from a common ancestor, as evolutionists claim. Each kind was made unique and distinct from every other. There was no need to evolve to some higher form of life, for God saw that what he had made was good.

B. God Blesses (vv. 22, 23)

22, 23 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

With this form of life, mating is in order, so God bids these creatures to be fruitful and increase in number. This same imperative is given to mankind in verse 28. Of course, with regard to the birds and sea creatures, it was not a "command" to be obeyed; it simply indicates God's purpose and design for the propagation of these living beings.

IV. Day Six (Genesis 1:24-31)

A. Land Animals Created (vv. 24, 25)

24, 25 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

The three terms used to describe the land animals are of a general nature. The first group named is that of the larger herd animals (livestock), many of which we have come to associate with farms or the open prairie. The second group is composed of creatures that move along the ground, a term that includes such reptiles as lizards and snakes. Finally there are wild animals, an expression that is probably something of an anachronism here, coming before the fall. It is simply "living things" in Hebrew, but likely designates what we would label from our post-fall perspective as "undomesticated" or "wild" animals.

B. Man Created (vv. 26, 27)

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Before this, God's creative power called forth each successive object with such simple commands as "Let there be light," "Let the water teem with," and "Let the land produce." Now a more personal and deliberate word was spoken: Let us make. This in itself indicates that something extraordinary was about to take place. The creation of man was not to be a casual act; it was to be accompanied by the deliberations of the Creator.

What is the significance of the word us? The plural pronoun appears again when God speaks in Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:6, 7; and Isaiah 6:8. From the additional revelation of Scripture, we know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God said, "Let us make," it could have been a foreshadowing of this truth that was later to be revealed. Whether Moses or any ancient Hebrew had any concept of the Trinity is beside the point. Jesus, the Word, was "with God in the beginning" and "through him all things were made" (John 1:1-3). The expression "Let us make" does not explicitly set forth the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is in keeping with that doctrine.

Some believe this usage to reflect a literary device rather than a theological truth. The plural is sometimes used when a singular is expected, such as the plural of majesty or of excellence. Sometimes called the royal plural, this is the device employed by Queen Victoria when she said, "We are not amused," and by Margaret Thatcher when she announced, "We are a grandmother." While the device is common in English, however, scholars are divided about whether or not it is a legitimate Hebrew expression.

Being made in the image of God does not include physical characteristics. Involved instead are attributes such as intellect, self-consciousness, emotion, self-determination, and the capacity to love, communicate, and have fellowship with God. We might include the capacity to "create," or think independently and originally, as something we share with God.

Being made in God's image also involves a shared authority, by which man is granted rule over the rest of the created order. Man was created to be a ruler; as David wrote, "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5). But he is to rule out of compassion, not greed. Thus was Adam placed in the Garden of Eden "to work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15).

Another question involves the significance of the terms image and likeness. Most likely these are simply interchangeable terms, as seen by a comparison of Genesis 1:27 with Genesis 5:1. They indicate that man is set apart from the rest of creation and is given a position of honor above everything else God has made.

Finally, the fact that the verse concludes with a reference to all the creatures that move along the ground should be noted. This may be designed to lead up to the account of man's fall, which was brought about by the serpent. Adam and Eve should have asserted their dominion over this creature instead of yielding to its seductions.

27 So God created man in his own image,