Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975) 327-42.

Copyright © 1975 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

                The Creation Account

                      in Genesis 1:1-3

            

                      Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1

 

                                    Bruce K. Waltke

 

Moses' revelation of God, given through the Holy Spirit's in-

spiration, conflicted diametrically with the concepts of the gods and

goddesses found in the nations all around him. Moses differed with

the pagan religions precisely in the conceptualization of the relation-

ship of God to the creation. To all other peoples of the ancient

Near East, creation was the work of gods and goddesses. The forces

of nature, personalized as gods and goddesses, were mutually inter-

related and often locked in conflict. Moreover, their myths about the

role of these gods and goddesses in creation were at the very heart of

their religious celebrations. These stories about Ninurta and Asag,

Marduk and Tiamat, Baal and Yamm, did not serve to entertain the

people, nor did they serve merely to explain how the creation orig-

inated. The adherents of these myths believed that by myth (word)

and by ritual (act) they could reenact these myths in order to sustain

the creation. Life, order, and society, depended on the faithful cele-

bration of the ritual connected with the myth. For example, concern-

ing the Enuma elish, Sarna wrote:

 

Recorded in seven tablets, it was solemnly recited and dramatically

presented in the course of the festivities marking the Spring New

Year, the focal point of the Babylonian religious calendar. It was,

 

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles first delivered

by the author as the Bueermann-Champion Foundation Lectures at Western

Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon, October 1-4, 1974, and

adapted from Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative

Baptist Seminary, 1974).

 

327



328 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- October 1975

 

in effect, the myth that sustained Babylonian civilization, that

buttressed its societal norms and its organizational structure.1

 

But the revelation of God in Scripture is diametrically opposed

to these degraded notions about God. If, then, the essential differ-

ence between the Mosaic faith and the pagan faith differed pre-

cisely in their conceptualization of the relationship of God to the

creation, is it conceivable that Moses should have left the new nation

under God without an accurate account of the origin of the creation?

To this writer such a notion is incredible. Anderson touched on the

source critic's problem when he noted: "Considering the impressive

evidences of the importance of the creation-faith in pagan religion

during the second millennium B.C., it is curious that in Israel's faith

during its formative and creative period (1300-1000 B.C.), the belief

in Yahweh as Creator apparently had a second place."2 His choice

of the word curious for this tension is curious. The dilemma for the

critic is intolerable. The only satisfying solution is to grant Mosaic

authorship to the narrative of Genesis 1. Once that is clear, the

theological function of the chapter is also clear.

Moses, the founder of the new nation, intended this introductory

chapter to have both a negative and a positive function. Negatively, it

serves as a polemic against the myths of Israel's environment; posi-

tively, it teaches man about the nature of God.

 

THE POLEMICAL FUNCTION OF GENESIS I

Before considering the discontinuity between the pagan cosmog-

onies and Genesis 1, however, it is only fair to consider first the

points of continuity between these myths and Scripture.

 

THE CONTINUITY BETWEEN THE CREATION MYTHS AND GENESIS 1

 

The evidence of the continuity. First, there is a literary continu-

ity. It has been noted, for example, that both the Enuma elish3 and

Genesis 1:2-3 begin with circumstantial clauses followed by the main

account of the creation.4 Also in both accounts the circumstantial

 

1 Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (New York: Schocken Books,

1970), p. 7.

2 Bernhard W. Anderson. Creation versus Chaos (New York: Association

Press, 1967), p. 49.

3 Many other versions of Babylonian creation myths are listed by Alexander

Heidel, The Babvlonian Genesis, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1963), pp. 61-81, but the Enunia elish may be taken as representative

of them.

4 Bruce K. Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis I:1-3: Part 1: Intro-

duction to Biblical Cosmogony," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January-March

1975) : 25-36.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 329

 

clauses serve a negative function. Westermann referred to these as

the "when-not-yet sentence materials from the ancient Near East and

Egypt."5 This same pattern prevails in Genesis 1:2-3; 2:4b-7; Prov-

erbs 8:24-26; and Ezekiel 16:4-5. As Hasel commented: "In these

passages as in the ancient Near Eastern materials, long series of

descriptions negate later conditions of the world through formula-

like ‘when not yet’ sentences."6 Of course, this continuity of literary

structure comes as no surprise, for Israel belonged physically to the

peoples of the ancient Near East. Her language was Canaanite and

her literary compositions, in their physical outward form, conformed

to the literary conventions of her age.

Second, there are points of similarity in their content. Both

accounts present a primeval, dark,7 watery, and formless8 state prior

to creation, and neither account attributes this state to the Creator/

creator. Also the two accounts agree about the order of the creation.

Heidel has charted these basic similarities in detail between the

chronological sequence of the creation of the cosmos in the two

accounts.9

 

Enuma elish                                                  Genesis

 

Divine spirit and cosmic matter                   Divine spirit creates cosmic

are coexistent and coeternal                        matter and exists

                                                                        independently of it

Primeval chaos; Tiamat                                 The earth a desolate waste,

enveloped in darkness                                   with darkness covering

                                                                        the deep

Light emanating from the gods                    Light created

The creation of the firmament                     The creation of the firmament

The creation of dry land                                The creation of dry land

The creation of the luminaries                     The creation of the luminaries

The creation of man                          The creation of man

The gods rest and celebrate                          God rests and sanctifies the

                                                                        seventh day

 

5 C. Westernann, Genesis, in Biblische Konrmetar zunt Alten Testamentuni

(Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1967), pp. 60 ff., 87 ff., 131.

6 Gerhard F. Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look,"

The Bible Translator 22 (October 1971) : 164-65.

7 Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, p. 101.

8 Ibid., p. 97.

9 Ibid., p. 129.



330 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

The explanation of the continuity. How can these correspon-

dences be explained? One answer is that Israel's neighbors borrowed

from her. But this is improbable for it is almost certain that many

of these ancient Near Eastern myths antedate Moses.10

Another explanation is that the similarities are purely coinci-

dental. D. F. Payne noted that Ryle, Gerhard von Rad, and Kinnier

Wilson hold this view, and then concluded, "It must probably re-

main an open question whether . . . the correspondence [is]

coincidental."11

The most common explanation of those scholars who regard the

world as a closed system without divine intervention is that Israel

borrowed these mythologies, demythologized them, purged them of

their gross and base polytheism, and gradually adopted them to their

own developing and higher theology. Zimmern went so far as to

state that the early appearance of the watery chaos in Genesis 1 "is

unintelligible in the mouth of an early Israelite," for he supposed that

the concept of a watery chaos was derived from the annual flooding

of the Mesopotamian river.12 Of course, his argument is no longer

tenable because, as Wakeman has demonstrated,13 the concept of

primeval water is found across a broad spectrum of ancient myths

and not confined to any one geographical area.

It is certain that Israel knew these myths and it is also possible

that having borrowed them they demythologized them.14 Moreover,

the biblical writers elsewhere tell us that they did use sources.15 In

spite of these facts, this explanation does not satisfy because it offers

no explanation for Israel's higher theology. Where did Israel get this

higher theology? Why did it not appear among any other people?

Neither the brilliant Greek philosophers of later ages, nor Israel's

Babylonian and Egyptian contemporaries, so far ahead of them in

the arts and science, attained to it. All the world was steeped in

mythical thought except Israel. Her religion was like the sun com-

pared to the night. No umbilical cord attached the faith of Moses

and his successors with the other religions of the ancient Near East.

 

10 Ibid., pp. 130-32.

11 D. F. Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered (London: Tyndale Press, 1964),

p. 11.

12 Encyclopedia Biblica, s.v. "Creation," by Heinrich Zimmern, col. 940.

13 Mary Wakeman, God's Battle with the Monster: A Study in Biblical

Imagery (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973), pp. 86-105.

14 In this connection also see R. N. Whybray, The Heavenly Counsellor

in Isaiah xl 13-14 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1971), pp. 62-77.

15 Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, p. 135.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 331

 

Furthermore, any religion that even approaches the Mosaic faith,

such as Mohammedanism, borrowed it from Israel.

Moreover, this religion did not arise from Israel itself. Over

and over again they confess that they are stiffnecked and prone to

conform to the religions around them. No, Israel's religion did not

originate in the darkened mind and heart of man. Instead, as the

prophets consistently affirm, it is a revelation from God. This is the

only answer that satisfies both the mind and spirit of man. If, then,

the theological content is by divine revelation, does it not follow that

the historical details may also have come by divine revelation?

Genesis 1 is unlike the sources, of pagan religions in that it con-

tains information unknowable to any man. Certainly ancient chron-

iclers could record events of their days and the inspired prophet-

historians could use them for theological reasons. But what human

author could know the historical details of the creation? It is con-

cluded, therefore, that the explanation that Israel borrowed the

material is wrong.

The only satisfying answer is that proposed by Ira M. Price of

the University of Chicago. He suggested that these versions sprang

from a common source of some kind. He attributed the common ele-

ments to a common inheritance of man going back to "a time when

the human race occupied a common home and held a common

faith."16 Although not citing Price, Unger holds the same view:

 

     Early races of men wherever they wandered took with them

these earliest traditions of mankind, and in varying latitudes and

climes have modified them according to their religions and mode

of thought. Modifications as time proceeded resulted in the cor-

ruption of the original pure tradition. The Genesis account is not

only the purist, but everywhere bears the unmistakable impress of

divine inspiration when compared with the extravagances and

corruptions of other accounts. The Biblical narrative, we may

conclude, represents the original form these traditions must have

assumed.17

 

Isaiah confirms this explanation for he implies that God's people

know of the creation from the beginning itself. He asked: "Do you

not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you

from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations

of the earth?" (Isa. 40:24).

 

16 Ira M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament (Philadelphia:

Judson Press, 1925), pp. 129-30.

17 Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), p. 37.



332 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

THE DISCONTINUITY BETWEEN THE CREATION MYTHS AND GENESIS 1

 

While there is a similarity in literary form and in rudimentary

content, the biblical account radically differs from the creation myths

of the ancient Near East in its theological stance.

For one thing, the creation myths are stories about numerous

gods and goddesses personifying cosmic spaces or forces in nature.

They are nature deities. The pagan mind did not distinguish spirit

from matter. For them all of nature consisted of personalities com-

bining divine spirit and cosmic matter in an eternal coexistence. Thus

the sun was a god and the moon was a god. Even Akhenaten, the

so-called first monotheist, never conceived of Aten, the sun god, any

differently. He distinguished himself by selecting only one force of

nature and, of course, never could find a following. Did not the other

forces of nature also need to be worshiped?

In Canaan at the time of the Conquest, each city had its own

temple dedicated to some force of nature. The name Jericho derives

from the Hebrew word, Hry, which means "moon"; Jericho's inhabi-

tants worshiped the moon, the god "Yerach." Likewise, on the

other side of the central ridge of Palestine is the city of Beth-shemesh,

which means "Temple of the Sun"; Shamash, the sun god, was wor-

shiped there. It is against this environment that one can appreciate

the significance of the stories about the Conquest. Yahweh, the God

of Israel, did not consist of the forces of nature but stood majestically

transcendent above them. He fought for Israel. He compelled these

high gods of Canaan to hide their faces at noonday. Concerning the

account in Joshua 9, Wilson wrote:

 

At the prayer of Israel's leader, both of their chief deities, the

sun and the moon, were darkened, or eclipsed. So, as we can

well imagine would be the case, they were terrified beyond

measure, thinking that the end of all things had come; and they

were discomfited and smitten and turned and fled.18

 

The second element of the darkened pagan view of the universe

is summarized in the catchwords "myth" and "ritual." The "creation

myth," so widespread in the ancient Near East, did not serve pri-

marily to satisfy man's intellectual curiosity about the origin of the

world. Man was not concerned about history as such. He was rather

concerned about continuing the stability of the natural world and the

society to which he belonged. How could he guarantee that the

orderly life achieved in the beginning by the triumph of the creative

 

18 Robert Dick Wilson, "What Does ‘The Sun Stood Still' Mean?" Princeton

Theological Review 16 (1918): 46-54.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 333

 

forces over the inert forces would continue? Chaos was ever threaten-

ing to break down the structures of his life. His solution to the

dilemma was by means of myth and ritual. By the use of magical

words (myth) accompanying the performance of certain all-impor-

tant religious festivals (ritual) he thought he could guarantee the

stability of life. The myth, spoken magically at the high religious

festivals, served as the libretto of the community liturgy. It declared

in word what the ritual was designed to ensure through action. Sarna

summarized the role of myth and ritual thus:

 

    Myth, therefore, in the ancient world was mimetically re-

enacted in public festivals to the accompaniment of ritual. The

whole complex constituted imitative magic, the effect of which was

believed to be beneficial to the entire community. Through ritual

drama, the primordial events recorded in the myth were reactivated.

The enactment at the appropriate season of the creative deeds of

the gods, and the recitation of the proper verbal formulae, it was

believed, would effect the periodic renewal and revitalization of

nature and so assure the prosperity of the community.19

 

Against this background, the polemical function of the first

chapter of Genesis is evident. Not that the tone is polemical; pre-

cisely the opposite. As Cassuto noted, "The language is tranquil,

undisturbed by polemic or dispute; the controversial note is heard

indirectly, as it were, through the deliberate, quiet utterances of

Scripture."20 By a simple straightforward account of the way it

happened, the biblical account corrects the disturbed pagan notions.

Here there is no theogony. No one begot God; God created all.

Stuhmueller commented: "Alone among all Semitic creative gods,

Yahweh underwent no birth, no metamorphosis."21 Moreover, here

there is no theomachy. The Spirit of God does not contend with a

living hostile chaotic force, but hovers over the primordial mass

awaiting the appropriate time for history to begin. How can the chaos

be hostile when it is not living but inanimate? It can only be shaped

according to the will of the Creator. The sun, moon, and stars, wor-

shiped by the pagans, are reduced to the status of "lamps" (Gen.

1:16) . The dreaded MnynT ("dragons") are created (xrb ) by

God, who calls them good (v. 21). McKenzie put it this way:

 

19 Sarna, Understanding Genesis, p. 7.

20 Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, trans. Israel

Abrahams, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 1:7.

21 Carroll Stuhmueller, "The Theology of Creation in Second Isaias,"

Catholic Biblical Quarterly 21 (1959) : 429-67.



334 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

   Against this background, the Hebrew account of origins can

scarcely be anything else but a counterstatement to the myth of

creation .... The Hebrew author enumerates all the natural forces

in which deity was thought to reside, and of all of them he says

simply that God made them. Consequently, he eliminates all

elements of struggle on the cosmic level; the visible universe is

not an uneasy balance of forces, but it is moderated by one supreme

will, which imposes itself with effortless supremacy upon all that

it has made. By preference the author speaks of the created work

rather than of the creative act, because he wishes to emphasize the

fact that the creative Deity, unlike Marduk, has not had to win

his supremacy by combat with an equal.22

 

Instead of cosmic deities locked in mortal combat, God the

Creator works calmly as a craftsman in his shop. There is no more

danger that He will fall before the monster of chaos than there is

that the chair will devour the carpenter.23

As von Rad said, Genesis 1 is not a demythologized narrative

but a distinctly antimythical narrative.24  Thus the creation was "dis-

enchanted," to use the language of the sociologist of religion, Max

Weber. By speaking the truth in a world of lies, God emancipated

man from the fear of creation to the freedom to research it and bring

it under his dominion. Here, then, was the sound philosophical foun-

dation on which true science could progress. Man could now stand at

a distance from matter as an observer, calm and unafraid.

 

THE THEOLOGY OF GOD ACCORDING TO GENESIS 1

Genesis 1 points to several activities of God and also reveals

several attributes of God. His activities as the Creator, Savior, and

Ruler are discussed in the following paragraphs and His attributes

will be discussed in the next article in this series.

 

GOD AS THE CREATOR

            Foundational to an understanding of God is the truth that He is

the Creator above and apart from His creation. The faith that God

was the Creator of heaven and earth and not coexistent and coeternal

with the creation distinguished Israel's faith from all other religions.

            Here was the basis for fellowship between Abraham and Mel-

chizedek. Although much about Melchizedek is not explained, one

thing is certain: he worshiped the Creator of heaven and earth.

When Melchizedek, king of Salem, met Abraham after his return

 

22 John L. McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword (New York: Image Books,

1966), p. 101.

23 Ibid., p. 102.

24 Gerhard von Rad, cited by Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered, p. 22.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 335

 

from defeating the kings of the East, he blessed him and said:

"Blessed be Abram of El Elyon (the Most High God), Creator of

heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:15). Abraham immediately recognized

this king-priest who worshiped the Creator rather than the creation

as his king-priest, and Abraham gave him a tenth of all. Indeed they

worshiped the same God, but instead of calling God merely by the

epithet El Elyon, Abraham added God's personal name and replied,

"I have sworn to Yahweh, El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth"

(Gen. 14:22). By adding the personal name Yahweh, he revealed

that the Most High Creator was also the God of history, law, and

ethics, the God who would establish His kingdom on earth through

Abraham's seed.

The word for "create" used by Melchizedek in Genesis 14:19,

22 is different from the word used in Genesis 1:1. The verb trans-

lated "create" in Genesis 14 is used only four other times in the Old

Testament in the sense "to create," but it seems to have been more

frequent in the Canaanite world. It was used at Ugarit and was found

in the Phoenician inscription of Karatepe. Possibly because of his

Canaanite background Melchizedek used this more unusual word.25

At this point it may be well to digress and discuss the words for

"create" in the Old Testament. Many words, in fact, are used to

designate the creative activity of God. In addition to xrb found in

Genesis 1:1, there are rcy, "to form"; hWf , "to make"; dsy, "to

found"; dly , "to beget"; and others. All these, with the exception of

xrb, are metaphorical for they are also used of man's creative activ-

ity. xrb, however, distinguishes itself from these other words by being

used exclusively with God as the subject. Moreover, as Julian Mor-

genstern pointed out, it "never takes the accusative of the material

from which a thing is made, as do other verbs of making, but uses

the accusative to designate only the thing made."26 Since it is used

exclusively of God and never takes the accusative of the material,

some have suggested that the word must mean "to create out of

nothing." Evidently assuming that the word meant "to create out of

nothing," in contrast to the other words for making, Scofield popu-

larized the view that there were only three creative acts of God:

 

25 P. Hanhert, "Qavah in Hebreu Biblique," in Festschrift Alfred Bertholet,

eds. Walter Baumgartner et al (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1950), pp. 258 ff.

26 Julian Morgenstern, "The Sources of the Creation Story - Genesis

1 : 1-2:4," American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 36 (1920)

201.



336 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

"(1) the heavens and earth, v. 1; (2) animal life, v. 21; and (3) hu-

man life, vss. 26-27."27

But this distinction cannot be maintained for at least four

reasons: (1) usage shows that xrb does not necessarily mean "to

create out of nothing"; (2) it is used synonymously with other words

for "making"; (3) other words for "making" may imply that the

thing made did not originate out of preexisting material; and (4) the

ancient versions did not see this meaning in the word.

Two passages illustrate that xrb was used to mean something

other than creatio ex nihilo. In Genesis 1:27, God "created" (xrb)

the man, but in Genesis 2:7 God "formed" (rcy) the man from

the earth. Moreover, xrb is used with a double accusative to define

the production of a new mental state; for example, in Isaiah 65:18,

the Lord declares, "for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing,

and her people for gladness." Gruenthaner observed: "Evidently,

Jerusalem and the people are represented as being prior to the state

into which they are converted."28  xrb in Genesis 1:1 does not

include the bringing into existence of the negative state described in

verse 2. Rather, it means that God utilized it as a part of His creation.

In this sense He created it.

 

That xrb is used synonymously with the more colorless word

hWf seems evident from the following comparisons.

Comparison of xrb and hWf

Gen.    1:21                God created the sea monsters -- xrb

            1:25                God made the beasts -- hWf

            1:26                God said, "Let us make man" -- hWf

            1:27                And God created man -- xrb

            2:4a                 When the heavens and the earth were created --xrb

                                    When the Lord God made earth and heaven --hWf

            1:1                  God created the heavens and the earth -- xrb

Exod.  19:11              God made the heavens and the earth -- hWf

Gen.    1:16                God made the two great lights . . . and stars

                                    -- hWf

Ps.       148:3, 5          Praise Him, sun, moon, . . . stars

                                    He commanded and they were created -- xrb

Isa.      40:26              Who created these [sun, moon, stars] -- xrb

 

27 The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press,

1909), p. 3.

28 Michael J. Gruenthaner, "The Scriptural Doctrine in First Creation,"

Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 (1947) : 50.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 337

 

Anderson set forth similar comparisons in the use of these words in

Isaiah 40-66 and found that xrb, hWf, and rcy are all used

synonymously.29

Moreover, it is clear that hWf and the other verbs may desig-

nate creation by fiat ex nihilo. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does

not depend on the verb xrb. Light was created when God spoke the

words, "Let there be light" (v. 3) ; there is not the slightest hint that

it sprang from chaos. Similarly, the firmament, which is called

"heaven" and which is conceived as a vault separating the lower

from the upper water, owes its existence exclusively to a divine com-

mand. The sun, moon, and stars came into existence at the sole

bidding of their Creator. Several different words are used for God's

creative acts:

 

God made (hWf) the firmament, heavenly bodies, sea animals

and birds, land animals and man.

God separated (ldb) light and darkness, the waters above and

firmament below, the water and dry land.

God placed (Ntn) the heavenly bodies above the uninhabited

world, and man to rule over the inhabited world.

God created (xrb ) sea creatures, birds, man.

 

The way the verb xrb is variously rendered in the Septuagint

shows that the translators did not know the popularly alleged

distinction.

God is not the Creator of just three aspects of the universe. He

is the Creator of the entire universe. The verb xrb serves to call

attention to His marvelous acts. Here is something that no man or

other god could accomplish.

This belief in God as Creator was the essential feature of the

Mosaic faith. God considered this aspect of Israel's faith so funda-

mental and important that when He chose a badge, a sign, a symbol

for His theocratic nation to wear, He chose one that displayed Him

as the Creator of the heaven and earth. In the fourth of the Ten

Commandments God mandated that the people work six days and

rest the seventh. He added that they were to do this because He had

worked six days and rested on the seventh day.

This was the outward mark, the sign, symbolizing visibly that

Israel was in covenant, in league, with God. According to Exo-

dus 31:13, 17 the observance of the Sabbath was a sign between

Israel and God. Just as the rainbow symbolized the Noahic Covenant,

and circumcision symbolized the Abrahamic Covenant, and the cup

 

29 Anderson, Creation versus Chaos, pp. 124-26.



338 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

of wine symbolized the New Covenant, the observance of the Sabbath

symbolized the Old Covenant.

By this ritual, Israel mirrored the Creator on earth and bore

witness among the pagan nations that they were in covenant with

the transcendent Creator. Here, indeed, was the essential difference

in the two faiths. The pagans manipulated their nature deities by

their magical words and mimetic ritual of the creation myth. But

Israel showed by the mimetic ritual of working six days and resting

the seventh day that they were under the Word, the Law, of the

Creator, the One who brought the universe into existence by His

command. This was the Creator's pattern in the beginning. Genesis 1,

then, served as the libretto for Israel's life.

But what about the uncreated or unformed state, the darkness

and the deep of Genesis 1:2? Here a great mystery is encountered,

for the Bible never says that God brought these into existence by His

word. What, then, can be said about them?

First, it can be said that the Book of Genesis does not inform

us concerning the origin of that which is contrary to the nature of

God, neither in the cosmos nor in the world of the spirit. Where did

the opposite of Him that is good. and bright originate? Suddenly,

without explanation, in Genesis 3 an utterly evil, brilliant, intelligent

personality appears in the Garden of Eden masquerading as a ser-

pent. The principle of origins, so strong in our minds, demands an

explanation. But the truth is that the Book mocks us. The Bible pro-

vides no information regarding that which is dark and devoid of

form. Here are some of the secret things that belong to God.

Second, the situation described in verse 2 was not outside the

control of God, for the circumstantial clause adds, "and the Spirit

of God moved upon the face of the waters." The verb JHr trans-

lated "moved upon" occurs elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 32:11 of

a rwn , either an eagle or a vulture, fluttering over her young in her

nest as she cares for them. Although some would translate

Myhlx HUr  here by the words "mighty wind,"30 this is unlikely

because everywhere else in this text Myhlx  designates God, and the

verb JHr implies intelligent concern. Here is no restrainer as in the

ancient Near Eastern myth, hindering the Creator, but here is the

creative, life-giving Spirit of God waiting the proper moment to begin

history by the creation of heaven and earth through the Word.

Though not called "good" at first, the darkness and deep were called

 

30 E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday

& Co., 1964), p. 5.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 339

 

"good" later when they became part of the cosmos. It is all part of

God's plan. According to His own sovereign purposes, however, in

due time He has said that He will eliminate the darkness and deep

from His organized universe altogether.

The biblicist faces a dilemma when considering the origin of

those things which are contrary to God. A good God characterized

by light could not, in consistency with His nature, create evil, dis-

order, and darkness. On the other hand, it cannot be eternally out-

side of Him for that would limit His sovereignty.31 The Bible resolves

the problem not by explaining its origin but by assuring man that it

was under the dominion of the Spirit of God.

 

GOD AS THE SAVIOR

The narrative of Genesis one served as the libretto for all of

Israel's life. Reflection on this libretto for life not only reminded

Israel that her God who called her to be His instrument for the salva-

tion of the world was the Creator transcendent above and not

immanent in the creation, but also that this same God was Himself

a triumphant Savior.

In this series it has been pointed out that the chaos spoken of

in Genesis 1:2 was not some living force or principle that could

oppose God. But it has also been stated that a hostile dragon symbol-

ized that state of darkness and sea at the time of creation. How can

these two viewpoints be reconciled, or are they contradictory, as

McKenzie maintained?32 It seems that both viewpoints are true: on

the one hand, the deep and darkness had no life, but on the other

hand, they represented a state of existence contrary to the character

of God. According to Ramm, verse 2 represents the creation as a

block of marble waiting the sculptor's creative touch,33 and accord-

ing to Cassuto, it is like the raw clay on a potter's wheel waiting to

be fashioned.34 To many theologians the state of verse 2 should be

evaluated as "good." But this evaluation is inconsistent with the

biblical viewpoint. The poets of Israel likened it to a monster. The

remains of that state are still seen in the surging seas threatening life.

The situation of verse 2 is not called good. Moreover, that state of

darkness, confusion, and lifelessness is contrary to the nature of God

 

31 See Karl Barth, Die Kirkliche Dogmatik (Zurich, 1945), 3:111-21.

32 McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword, pp. 102-3.

33 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Gland

Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 203.

34 Cassuto, The Book of Genesis, 1:23.



340 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975

 

in whom there is no darkness. He is called the God of light and life,

the God of order.

As Israel reflected on this account of creation, then, it may be

concluded that she was reminded that her God was a triumphant

Savior, who overcame all that was contrary to His character. To

Moses and his followers this fact brought assurance that the victory

belonged to God.

But how different was Israel's battle to that of her pagan

neighbors. Whereas her neighbors were involved in the battle of

overcoming the hostile forces of nature, the gods of inertia, Israel

was involved in the political-spiritual battle of overcoming a world

hostile and in rebellion to the righteous character of God. The

restrainer for Israel was not some cosmic dragon, but the Pharaoh,

and the kings of the earth, who agitated like a surging sea against

the rule of God. As Marduk overcame Tiamat, so Yahweh overcame

Rahab, the Pharaoh, and so Yahweh would overcome His enemies

including even Satan himself.

In fact, in contrast to the pagan celebrations reenacting an an-

nual victory over the hostile forces of nature, all of Israel's celebra-

tions commemorated God's victories in history in His ongoing pro-

gram of establishing His righteous rule on earth. At the Passover

ritual Israel celebrated the deliverance from the oppressive Pharaoh;

at the Feast of Firstfruits she celebrated the victory of taking the

land from the resisting Canaanites; and at the Feast of Tabernacles

Israel anticipated the ultimate establishment of God's universal rule

over the world which He had created in the first place.35

 

GOD AS THE RULER

In the "creation myths" of the pagans, the god responsible for

the creation emerged as the ruler after his victory. So also God's

story about creation revealed that He is the supreme ruler, sover-

eignly exercising His lordship in and over all the creation.

The narrative of Genesis 1 includes several indications of God's

absolute lordship. The essence of the creative process is the will of

God expressed through His word. A basic pattern runs through each

creative act. Westermann analyzed that common pattern as follows:36

 

35 Terry Hulbert, "Eschatological Significance of Israel's Annual Feasts"

(Th.D. disc., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965), p. 95.

36 Claus Westermann, The Genesis Accounts of Creation (Philadelphia:

Fortress Press, 1964), p. 7.



The Theology of Genesis 1 / 341

 

Announcement: And God said .. .

Command: "let there be .. let it be gathered .

let it bring forth ..."

Report: And it was so

Evaluation: And God saw that it was good.

Temporal framework: And there was evening, and there

was morning, the ... day.

 

This analysis readily exposes the fact that the essential feature

of the creative process was the command of God. Westermann

observed: "These five elements are but parts of one coherent whole:

a command. The whole creation came into existence because God

willed it, God commanded it."37 Von Rad observed: "The world and

its fulness do not find their unity and inner coherence in a cosmo-

logical first principle, such as the Ionian natural philosophers tried

to discover but in the completely personal will of Yahweh their

creator."38

Moreover, to show His sovereign dominion over His creation,

God gave names to the light, to the darkness, to the firmament, to

the dry land, and to the gathered waters. He called them Day, Night,

Heavens, Earth, and Sea, respectively. To understand the significance

of this act of naming the parts of the creation it must be realized

that in the Semitic world the naming of something or someone was

the token of lordship. Reuben, for example, changed the names of

the cities of the Amorites after he had conquered them (Num.

32:38). Likewise, Pharaoh Necho changed Eliakim's name to

Jehoiakim after he had defeated the Judean king (2 Kings 23:34).

Is it not significant that God gave names precisely to those features

that belonged to the precreated situation? In so doing He showed that

He was Lord of all.

He left it to man to decide the names of the birds and of the

domesticated and wild animals. He did not name these because He

had delegated His authority to man to have dominion over the earth.

Thus by naming the creatures of the earth man brought them under

his dominion. Significantly, before God gave Adam His most precious

gift, the woman, God had man first show his ability to rule by naming

the other creatures. But, then, in one of the most instructive insights

into the mind of man before the fall, Adam named her after himself

(Gen. 2:23). He was wyx; she would be hwyx, the feminine form

of wyx. In this way Adam was saying, "She is my equal." He was

 

37 Ibid.

38 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 vols. (New York: Harper

& Row, 1962), 1:141.



342 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- October 1975

 

her lord, but he recognized her as his equal. What a perfect blending

of leadership and love in the first husband.

God, who is Ruler of all, then delegated His authority to others.

To the sun and the moon He gave the rule over the day and the

night (Gen. 1:16), but to man He gave the rule over the earth

(1:26). Does man want to know what it means to rule the earth?

Then let him look to the sun and the moon as his example in the

heavens. There he can see excellence, beauty, faithfulness and

dependability, as these creatures fulfill and actualize their Creator's

intent.

What an example and what an encouragement this creation

narrative must have been to Israel, called on to bring the earth under

His righteous rule. As they reflected on God's creative acts, they

were reminded that they were called on to rule under and with the

Ruler par excellence (Deut. 20:10-18). If they would be obedient

to His word, they too would create a society in which righteousness

and peace would kiss each other.

And what an encouragement that they would ultimately suc-

ceed! The Creator did not leave His job half finished. He perfected

the creation, and then He established it. He did not end up with

chaos, as Isaiah noted (Isa. 45:18). Neither would He forget His

people. The program He began with He would consummate in tri-

umphant rest.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

            www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu