Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (Jan.-Mar. 1975) 25-36
Copyright © 1975 by
The Creation Account
in Genesis 1.1-3
Part I: Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony
Bruce K. Waltke
Until about a century ago, most persons living within Western
culture found their answer to the question of cosmogony in the
first words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens
and the earth." But today their descendants turn more and more
to encyclopedias or other books on universal knowledge. There,
both in text and in picture, an entirely different origin is presented.
In place of God they find a cloud of gas, and in place of a well-
organized universe they find a blob of mud. Instead of beginning
with the Spirit of God, the new story begins with inanimate matter
which, through some blind force inherent in the material substance,
brought the world to its present state during the course of billions
of years. This substitution of matter for spirit accounts for the
death of Western civilization as known about a century ago.
Why has the new generation turned from the theologian to
the scientist for the answer to his nagging question about the origin
of the universe? In a provocative work D. F. Payne addressed
himself to this question.1 He concluded that the switch came about
because of a threefold attack on the first chapter of Genesis during
the latter half of the last century.
CHALLENGES TO BIBLICAL COSMOGONY
First, there came the challenge of the scientific community.
In the wake of Charles Darwin's revolutionary hypothesis of
1 D. F. Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered (London: Tyndale Press, 1962).
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles first delivered by
the author as the Bueermann-Champion Foundation Lectures at Western
Creation and Chaos (
Baptist Seminary, 1974).
26 / Biliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
evolution to explain the origin of species, the majority of the
community fell in with
Bible. They believed they could validate
empirical data, but they thought that they could not do the same
for the Bible.
The second challenge came from the comparative religionists
who sought to discredit the biblical story by noting the numerous
points of similarity between it and ancient mythological creation
various parts of the
Natural Selection, was the bellwether for the scientific challenge,
Hermann Gunkel's work, Schopfung und Chaos,2 persuaded many
Hebrews from their entrance into
complete creation myth like all the other ancient cosmogonic myths.
of the pagan hero gods. According to his view, the Hebrew version
of creation was just another Near Eastern folktale, which was
improved in the process of time by the story transmitters' creative
and superior philosophical and theological insights.
The third challenge came from literary criticism. The case
was stated most persuasively by Julius Wellhausen in his most
influential classic, first published in 1878 and still in print under the
title, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel.3 Here he argued
that there were at least two distinct accounts of creation in Genesis
1 and 2 and that these two accounts contradicted each other at
This threefold challenge radically altered the shape of theo-
education throughout Europe and
of most of the educators at the turn of the century is tersely caught
in this pronouncement by Zimmern and Cheyne in the Encyclopaedia
It may be regarded as an axiom of modern study that the descrip-
tions [note the plural] of creation contained in the biblical records,
and especially in Gen. 1:1-2:4a, are permanently valuable only
in so far as they express certain religious truths which are still
recognized as such. To seek for even a kernel of historical fact in
such cosmogonies is inconsistent with a scientific point of view.4
2 Hermann Gunkel. Schopfung
und Chaos (
3 Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient
4 Encyclopaedia Biblica. s. v. "Creation."
Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 27
Payne observed, "By the year 1900, therefore, many people had
been educated to believe that the Bible's statements about creation
were neither accurate, inspired, nor consistent."5 No wonder the
sons of the fathers turned their backs on their heritage as they
sought to answer the question, "How did the world originate?"
The purpose of this series of articles is not to reappraise the
apology for the biblical account of creation. But it seems imprudent
to address oneself to this subject without taking note of the debate
between reaction and evolution.
Perhaps the author can best state his position by a personal
anecdote. Last spring, through the mediation of one of his students,
who was both a premedical and a theological student, the author
was requested by his student's professor in a course on genetics
at Southern Methodist University to give a lecture defending the
creationist viewpoint. The thesis the author presented was that
evolution is a faith position that cannot be supported by empirical
data. In the field of genetics, for example, it can be demonstrated
that microevolution takes place but it cannot be demonstrated that
macroevolution has occurred. To illustrate, it is well known that
the varieties of gulls inhabiting the northern hemisphere between
in the middle of the ring, but those at the end of the ring do not
interbreed. Therefore, by a strict definition of species, it appears
almost certain that by natural selection distinct species arose on
this planet. But what cannot be proved -- and this is essential if
the theory of general evolution is to stand -- is that one of these
species of gulls is superior to another, that is, that it has a new
functioning organ with a genetic capacity to carry it on. To this
writer's knowledge there is no observed instance of the development
of a cell to greater specificity. G. A. Kerkut, professor of physiology
biochemistry at the
. . . there is the theory that all the living forms in the world have
arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic
form. This theory can be called the General Theory of Evolution,
and the evidence that supports it is not sufficiently strong to allow
us to consider it as anything more than a working hypothesis.6
During the questioning session that followed the lecture, the basic
thesis was accepted by both professor and students, but their next
question was, "Why should we accept your faith position instead of
5 Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered, p. 5.
6 G. A. Kerkut. Implications of Evolution (
1960), p. 157.
28 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
Now the author is not suggesting that by this one experience
he has refuted the hypothesis of evolution, but he is maintaining
that all answers which attempt to explain the origin of the universe
are essentially faith positions. The question that the LORD asked
of Job is asked of every man: "Where were you when I laid the
foundation of the earth?" (38:4) Since science is the systematic
analysis of presently, observed processes and their phenomena, sci-
ence cannot and ought not attempt to answer the question of the
origin of the universe. The answer is beyond the range of empirical
IMPORTANCE OF BIBLICAL COSMOGONY
But it may be asked, "What difference does all this make?"
It is important because the question of cosmogony is closely related
to one's entire world view. Someone has said that our world view
is like the umpire at a ball game. He seems unimportant and the
players are hardly aware of him, but in reality he decides the ball
game. So likewise one's world view lies behind every decision a per-
son makes. It makes a difference whether we come from a mass of
matter or from the hand of God. How we think the world started
will greatly influence our understanding of our identity, our rela-
tionship to others, our values, and our behavior. Because the
question of cosmogony is important for understanding some of the
basic issues of life, intelligent men throughout recorded history
have sought the answer to this question. Just as the knowledge of
the future is crucial for making basic choices in life, so also the
knowledge of beginnings is decisive in establishing a man's or a
culture's Weltanschauung ("world view"). No wonder the Bible
Because of man's limitation as a creature, he must receive this
knowledge by revelation from the Creator. Moreover, because of
the noetic effects of sin, he needs to be reborn before he can
comprehend that revelation.
The Christian faith rests on God as the first Cause of all
things. God has created man a rational creature, and while the
Christian's faith does not rest on rationalism, he should be able
to validate and defend his position. Therefore, we applaud and
encourage those engaged in apologetics.
Ancient myths died at just this point; they could not be
believed because there came into man's experience too much
contradictory evidence. As long as the world view assumed by
the myth satisfactorily accommodated the apparent realities of the
Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 29
objective world, it served as a plausible explanation of things and
gave a cohesive force to the community. But when that world view
slipped radically out of line with the general experience of "the
way things are," it ceased to be effective, Mary Douglas, in her
work Purity and Danger,7 made the helpful analogy that myth and
ritual are like money in providing a medium of exchange. As the test
of money is whether it is acceptable or not, so primitive ritual is
like good money so long as it commands assent.
It is precisely because of this incongruity between myth and
reality that the old liberal myth of man's self-progress died. Ander-
son rightly observed:
It is worthy of note that contemporary poets give expression to a
sense of catastrophe. . . . As Amos Wilder points out, poets like
John Masefield and Alfred Noyes, Vachel Lindsay and Edwin
Markham, even Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson, and many
others who reflected the buoyant optimism of the nineteenth century
doctrine of progress, no longer speak to our situation. Where are
the Browning clubs or the Tennyson circle?8
They are gone because man can no longer believe in his own self-
Orlinsky made this point well when addressing the symposium
of the annual meeting of the American Learned Society in 1960:
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the earlier part
of our own twentieth, are not unfairly labeled by historians as the
age of reason, enlightenment, ideology, and analysis -- in short,
the age of science. In this extremely exciting epoch, man began
increasingly to reject, and then to ignore the Bible, the revealed
Word of God, for more than two thousand years preceding, as
the ultimate source of knowledge by which the problems of society
could be resolved. Man began to depend upon his own powers of
observation and analysis to probe into the secrets of the universe
and its inhabitants.
Rationalists, political scientists, economists, historians, phi-
losophers, psychologists -- the two centuries preceding our own
times are full of great minds who grappled with societal problem,
and proposed for them solutions of various kinds. . . . If only reason
prevailed in man's relations to his fellowman -- the kind of uni-
versal peace and personal contentment that religion had been
promising humanity for over two thousand years would finally
come to pass.
7 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (New York: Praeger, 1966), p. 128.
Anderson, Creation versus Chaos (
Press, 1967), p. 13.
30 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
Alas, this has not come to pass. If anything the opposite
seems to prevail. Ever since World War I in the teens, the world
depression of the
early thirties, the rise of fascism in
horrors of World War II, the cold and hot and lukewarm wars of
the past decade and a half, increasing unemployment and auto-
mation, and the rather frequent recessions, it has become ever
more clear that reason alone was unable to bring our problems
closer to solution. And so, people have begun to come back to
Holy Scripture, to the Bible.9
In a word, the challenge has failed, and its alternative hypo-
thesis has left the world spiritually bankrupt. We are reminded of
Simon's answer when the Lord asked the Twelve if they too would
leave Him: "To whom shall we go? You have words of eternal
life" (John 6:68).
But unfortunately, when we turn to the theologians we discover
that those who study the Scriptures have not as yet established a
consensus of opinion regarding the meaning of the first two verses
of the Bible. In this series of articles the author hopes to familiarize
his readers with the positions advocated and to defend his own
ASSUMPTION UNDERLYING BIBLICAL COSMOGONY
Four assumptions underlie the method used in this series.
1. The validity of the philological approach used by the rabbis
the mystical approach employed by their French peers.
2. The historical method of interpretation will be employed as
faithfully as possible. Through the tools at our disposal, we must
work our way back into the world of the biblical authors if we
hope to understand their message.
The biblical authors themselves make it abundantly plain
that they were a part of their world, and that they originated out
of the nations of their time and place. For example, concerning
the list of nations in Genesis 10, Eichrodt observed:
The list of nations in Gen. 10, which is unique in ancient Eastern
preferential historical position, in the general context of humanity.
No claim is made for
capacity or "inherited nobility" which set it apart from the rest
of the nations.10
9 Harry M. Orlinsky, "The New Jewish Version of the Torah," Journal of
Biblical Literature 82 (1963): 249.
10 Walther Eichrodt. Man in the Old Testament. trans. K. and R. Gregor
Smith (Chicago: H. Regnery. 1951), p. 36.
Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 31
father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to
and sojourned there" (Deut. 26:5 ).11 Ezekiel deflates the pre-
tentious pride of his fellow countrymen by reminding them, "Your
origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your
father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite" (Ezek. 16:3).
These notices of their common origins with the other peoples
of the ancient Near East went by largely unnoticed until one day
in 1872. At that time George Smith, a young Assyriologist employed
assistant in the
course of his work he was struck by a line on one of the tablets.
He later wrote of this epoch-making moment:
Commencing a steady search among these fragments, I soon found
half of a curious tablet which had evidently contained originally
six columns. . . . On looking down the third column, my eye caught
the statement that the ship rested on the mountains of Nizir,
followed by the account of the sending forth of the dove, and its
finding no resting place and returning. I saw at once that I had
here discovered a portion at least of the Chaldean account of the
But that was not all. Included among the religious texts from
Ashurbanipal's library at
myth known as Enuma Elish (after its opening words "When on
high") -- a relatively late version of an ancient myth which dates
back to at least the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1830-1530 B.C.),
whose greatest king was Hammurabi (ca. 1728-1686 B.C.). This
myth was first published by George Smith in 1876 under the title
The Babylonian Account of Genesis.
It was on the basis of Smith's work that Gunkel wrote his
most influential work on creation and chaos in the Old Testament.
Though few will be enamored with Gunkel's clever analysis, no
serious student of Scripture today should give less attention to this
material than that given by Gunkel.
3. Having analyzed our material by the philologico-grammatical
approach, we must attempt to classify and systematize it. The texts
of the Old Testament bearing on cosmogony may be grouped into
four divisions: (a) texts describing the creation under the figure of
11Gerhard von Rad considered this the first of all biblical creeds. See
Theologie des Alten Testaments (Munchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1957), 1:
12 George Smith. cited in Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 217.
32 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
Yahweh's combat with the sea monster; (b) Genesis 1; (c) texts
from the wisdom school bearing on creation, namely Psalm 104,
Job 38, and Proverbs 8; and (d) the use of creation by Isaiah as
addressed the exiles in
4. Any given text must be interpreted within the realm of
Old Testament thought. Eichrodt's words are pointed but well taken:
In deciding, therefore, on our procedure for the treatment of the
realm of OT thought, we must avoid all schemes which derive
from Christian dogmatics -- such, for example, as "Theology-
Anthropology-Soteriology," "ordo salutis," and so on. Instead we
must plot our course as best we can along the lines of the OT's
In a word, we must try to extrapolate from the Old Testament itself
its unifying concepts and interpret the texts bearing on cosmogony
within those categories.
CREATION AND THE RAHAB-LEVIATHAN THEME
In several passages of the Old Testament, reference is made
to God's conflict with a dragon or sea monster named as Rahab,
"The Proud One," or Leviathan, "The Twisting One."14 At least
five of these texts are in a context pertaining to the creation of
the world, and it is for this reason that these are considered in
this series on creation. An understanding of these passages will aid
in understanding the Genesis creation account. For example, in Job
26:12-13 we read: "He quieted the sea with His power, and by His
understanding He shattered Rahab. By His breath the heavens are
cleared; His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent." In Psalm 74:13-17
it is recorded: "Thou didst break the heads of the sea-monsters in
the waters, Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan; Thou didst give
him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Thou didst break
open springs and torrents; Thou didst dry up ever-flowing streams,
Thine is the day, Thine is the night; Thou hast prepared the light
and the sun. Thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth;
Thou hast made summer and winter,"
Three questions may be asked about these passages: Who are
the monsters? How are we to interpret references to them in the
Old Testament? What is the significance of these references? These
questions pertain to identification, interpretation, and significance.
13 Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament. trans, J. A. Baker
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961). p. 33.
14 Rahab is referred to in Job ; 26:12; Pss. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 30:7; and
51:9. Leviathan is mentioned in Job 3:8; 41:1; Pss. 74:14; 104:26; and Isa.
Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 33
To identify Rahab and Leviathan. Wakeman turned to the
mythological lore of the ancient Near East.15 After analyzing twelve
battle myths are, as she put it, "about the same thing." Her analysis
showed that at the core of the myths three features were always
present: (1) a repressive monster restraining creation, (2) the defeat
of the monster by the heroic god who thereby releases the forces
essential for life, and (3) the hero's final control over these forces.16
These myths of the ancient Near East identify Rahab or
Leviathan as an anticreation dragon monster.17 Interestingly, the
biblical texts that refer to Rahab or Leviathan imply these same
three features found in these other mythical cosmogonies.
Job 3: 8 makes it clear that Leviathan is a repressive, anti-
creation monster who swallows up life. Job said: "Let those curse
it who curse the day, who are prepared to rouse Leviathan."
Summarizing the context of this verse, Fishbane concluded:
The whole thrust of the text in Job iii 1-13 is to provide a syste-
matic bouleversement, or reversal, of the cosmicizing acts of creation
described in Gen. i-ii 4a. Job, in the process of cursing the day of
his birth (v. 1), binds, spell to spell in his articulation of an abso-
lute and unrestrained death wish for himself and the entire
In several passages this repressive anticreation monster is
associated with the sea. For example, Psalm 89:9-10 reads: "Thou
dost rule the swelling of the sea; when its waves rise, Thou dost
still them. Thou thyself didst crush Rahab like one who is slain;
Thou didst scatter Thine enemies with Thy right arm." Isaiah
27:1b reads, "He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea." Job
26:12-13 and Psalm 74:13-17, cited earlier, also associate this
monster with the sea, as do Psalms 89:10; 104:26; and Isaiah 27: 1.
The other two features, viz., the destruction of the monster
and the controlling of life forces by the destroyer, are also seen
in several of the biblical Rahab-Leviathan passages. For example,
15 Mary K. Wakeman, God's
Imagery (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973).
16 Ibid., pp. 4-6.
17 Cf. the conflict between Apsu and Tiamat and between Ea and Marduk in
the Chaldean myth "Enuma Elish." See E. A. Speiser, "The Creation Epic," in
Ancient Near Eastern Texts. ed. James P. Pritchard (
University Press, 1955), p. 60.
18 Michael Fishbane, "Jeremiah IV 23-26 and Job III 3-13: A Recovered
Use of the Creation Pattern," Vetus Testamentum 21 (1971): 153.
34 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
Isaiah 51:9 states that Yahweh cut Rahab in pieces and pierced
the dragon, and Psalm 89:10 mentions that Yahweh crushed Rahab
and quelled the turbulent sea associated with the dragon.
Gordon's study of leviathan in both the Bible and the Ugaritic
texts puts the case beyond doubt.19 He convincingly demonstrated
that the myth about Rahab-Leviathan belongs to the mythology of
Having established that Leviathan in the Canaanite mythology
is a dragon resisting creation, we must raise the hermeneutical
whether the inspired poets of
actually had a combat with this hideous creature or whether this
Canaanite story served as a helpful metaphor to describe Yahweh's
creative activity. If we assume that the biblical authors were
logical -- and they were that and far more -- then we must opt
for the second interpretation of these references. The poets who
mention this combat also abhor the pagan idolatry and insist on a
Job, for example, protested his innocence by claiming: "If I
have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon going in
splendor; and my heart became secretly enticed, and my hand
threw a kiss from my mouth, that too would have been an iniquity
calling for judgment, for I would have denied God above" (Job
31:26-28). Isaiah, who stated that Yahweh hewed Rahab and
pierced the dragon (Isa. 51:9), also wrote, "Thus says the LORD,
is no God besides Me'" (Isa. 44:6). Similar words are stated later
by Isaiah: "That men may know from the rising to the setting of
the sun that there is no one besides Me; I am the LORD, and there
is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing
well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD, who does all
these" (Isa, 45 :6-7).
Allen stated the issue well when he concluded, "The
problem. . . is not one of borrowed theology but one of borrowed
imagery."20 The biblical prophets and poets, who were accustomed
to clothing their ideas in poetic garb, elucidating them with the
help of simile, and employing the familiar devices of poetry, were
19 Cyrus H. Gordon. "Leviathan: Symbol of Evil," in Biblical Motifs: Origins
Transformations. ed. Alexander Altmann (
sity Press, 1966), pp. 1-9.
20Ronald Barclay Allen. "The Leviathan-Rahab-Dragon Motif in the Old
Testament" (Th. M. thesis.
Introduction to Biblical Cosmogony / 35
not, to be sure, deterred from using what they found at hand in
It does not seem possible any longer to deny the presence of
mythological allusions in the Old Testament. They appear almost
entirely, as far as present research has shown, in poetic passages,
where they add vividness and color to the imagery and language.
They do not, on the other hand, permit one to affirm the existence
of creation myths among the Hebrews, corresponding to those of
was a conspicuous failure. The creation accounts of the Bible were
studiously composed to exclude mythological elements. The fact
that such allusions were freely admitted in poetry indicates no more
than this, that the Hebrews were acquainted with Semitic myths.
Where these are cosmogonic myths, the work of the creative
deity, or his victory over chaos, is simply transferred to Yahweh;
other deities involved in the myths are ignored. In no sense can
it be said that the Hebrews incorporated "mythopoeic thought" (to
borrow a word
tions; they did, however, assimilate mythopoeic imagery and
It is inconceivable that these strict monotheists intended to support
their view from pagan mythology, which they undoubtedly detested
and abominated, unless they were sure that their hearers would
understand that their allusions were used in a purely figurative
A study of the texts in which the Rahab-Leviathan emblem is
found shows that the biblical authors used it in one of three ways.
First, as seen in the texts considered thus far, they employed the
figure to describe God's creative activity in the prehistoric past.
Second, the symbol of Yahweh's victory over the dragon is
symbolic of Yahweh's victory over Pharaoh and
enemies in the historic present. They were particularly fond of
using Rahab as a nickname for Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus.
Rahab evoked appropriate feelings of Yahweh's victory in creating
In Isaiah 30: 7 the prophet, referring to
"Therefore I have called her Rahab who has been exterminated."
Later when Isaiah calls for the second exodus, this time from the
oppressive Babylonian, he commands: "Awake, awake, put on
strength, O arm of the LORD; awake as in the days of old, the
generations of long ago. Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon? Was it not Thou who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a
21 John L. McKenzie. S. J., "A Note on Psalm 73 (74); 13-15," Theological
Studies 2 (1950): 281-82.
36 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1975
pathway for the redeemed to cross over?" (Isa. 51:9-10) As Ander-
son obsersed: "It was then that Yahweh slew the monster Rahab,
separated the Great Deep (tehom rabbah) so that the people could
pass through (44:27), [and] rebuked the rebellious Sea (Yam;
Third, whereas Yahweh's poets used the symbol of Rahab to
depict His triumph at creation in the prehistoric past, and the
employed the story for His victories over
enemies in the historic present, the apocalyptic seers used it to
portray Yahweh's final triumph over the ultimate enemy behind all
history, even Satan, in the posthistoric future. Thus in Isaiah we
read: "In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing
serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan
the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the
sea" (Isa, 27: I). More clearly John says in his apocalypse: "And
there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels waging war with
the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they
were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for
them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent
of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole
world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown
down with him" (Rev. 12:7-9).
In all these passages, the literary allusions to Yahweh's defeat
of Rahab serve to underscore the basic thought of the Old Testa-
ment: Yahweh will triumph over all His enemies in the establishment
of His rule of righteousness. Negatively, the allusion serves as a
polemic against the gods of the foreign kingdoms. Not Baal of the
Canaanites, not Marduk of the Babylonians, not Pharaoh of Egypt,
but Yahweh, God of Israel, author of Torah, triumphs. As the
Creator of the cosmos, He triumphed at the time of creation; as
Creator of history, He triumphs in the historic present; and as
Creator of the new heavens and the new earth, He will triumph in
22 Anderson, Creation versus Chaos, p. 128. Incidentally, it may be noted
that in contrast to Moses' rod which turned into a serpent (Exod, 4:3).
Aaron's rod turned into a dragon (Exod. ). It was Aaron's draconic
rod that swallowed the draconic rods of the Egyptians. The point of the
incident is now clear: The rod is a symbol of rulership, and God thus
demonstrated that His kingdom would swallow up Pharaoh's kingdom.
Moreover, God indicated that He would subsume its powers within His own
dominion. The psalmist accordingly looked forward to the day when
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Dr. Roy Zuck
Please report any errors to Ted