A translation and commentary of Genesis 1
Gen 1:1-2 (Day One)
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
And the earth was empty and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
In the eyes of the ancient peoples, the broadest encompassing categories were the heavens and the earth. Everything we know is contained within these categories. At this time, however, the expanse of heaven and earth were like a blank canvas as nothing else had been formed. Some translations like to use “formless” (NASB, NKJB) instead of “empty” (which is how this word is often translated elsewhere in the bible, eg. 1Sam 12:21, Isa 29:21) and the idea is that things were in a pre-creation or pre-ordered state.
The basic material of this world, however, included waters – deep waters that seemed to have been considered a part of the primeval universe. The word used for this “deep” comes from the Hebrew “tehom”, which is a cognate for the Akkadian word “tiamat” found in the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish (1900-1600BC) which predates the time of Moses (ca.1400BC). The first few lines of the tablet reads as follows:-
At a time when even the glories above had yet to be named, And unuttered was the word for the world which lay beneath It was then that the first being, Apsu, who was their source, And the progenitor Tiamat, the mother who gave birth to all, Intermingled their waters, producing neither field nor marsh At a time when no divine beings had yet come into existence, There were no names to be spoken, and no fates pronounced, But the gods were given birth within those intermixing waves.
In the Enuma Elish, “tiamat” was this primordial chaos that was depicted as a tumultous sea, as well as the “mother” of the gods. The Genesis narrative puts God (Elohim) well over the apex of the Babylonian pantheon.
Going back to Gen 1:2, the fact that the water had a “face” upon which the Spirit hovered seems to suggest something like an ocean. There was also the “heavens” and the “earth”, but it is not very clear how the water fits into the other two at this point. Today, our cosmic world-view consists of a round planet earth and waters that cover parts of the surface of the planet. The ancients, however, saw the cosmos differently. For them, earth was flat and everything above the flat earth was the heavens. Around the flat earth, however, and possibly in the heavens as well, was huge amounts of water. It is possible that the “land” at this stage was viewed as being submerged in the waters.
God was already present, obviously, and the “spirit of God”, being the active agent by which God performs His will, was “fluttering” above the surface of the water since there was no dry land to stand on yet. This as, therefore, the ripe stage for creation – God, through His spirit, fluttering like a bird over the primeval ocean that covered the earth, and the heavens above.
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר
And God said, “Let there be light” and light was.
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ
And God saw the light, for (it was) good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לָאוֹר֙ י֔וֹם וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד
And God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.”. And it was evening, and it was morning. Day one.
The very first thing that God ordered out of the darkness was “light”. No mechanics were given. Light came into being simply at the expressed will of God, without effort. The previously dark heavens and earth were now bathed in light. The sky was no longer black as before, but blue, even if the sun had not yet been created. It was naturally the first thing to be ordered since without light, everything else would remain hidden in darkness. There was a logical precedence that called for light to be “created” first. Darkness, however, was uncreated. It was the beginning state and was defined by the absence of light and generally represented the absence not just of light, but of order.
The ancient writer did not yet have the concept of a heliocentric galaxy or how the days and nights were the result of earth rotating on its axis. To them, the sun existed for the day, and the moon for the night. While it should be apparent that the sun brought light, it was not the only source of light and light, as such, could exist apart from the sun (such as from the moon and the stars). The light of day, was not yet connected to the cosmic role of the sun. God calls the light “day”, although in reality it wasn’t “light” that God called day, but the time when the earth was lit. Conversely, when the light was absent, the time was called “night.” This was being written from the perspective of someone on earth, experiencing the progression from day to night and from night to day. This was not being written from a scientific heavenly or cosmic perspective, where the notion of day and night would be irrelevant.
The day came to a natural end when darkness set upon the land and all activity ground to a halt. This also marked the beginning of the next day. The full cycle of night to day and back to the end of day was considered a “day”, even if sunlight only illuminated a part of the day. In this sense “day” is actually a measure of time, and not just the state of being in sunlight.
Gen 1:6-8 (Day Two)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַמָּ֑יִם וִיהִ֣י מַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין מַ֖יִם לָמָֽיִם
And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,” and there was a division between water and water.
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And God made the firmament and divided between the waters which was below the firmament and between the waters which was above the firmament, and it was so.
יִּקְרָ֧א אֱלֹהִ֛ים לָֽרָקִ֖יעַ שָׁמָ֑יִם וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם שֵׁנִֽי
God called the firmament “heavens”, and it was evening and it was morning of day two.
So what exactly was a “firmament”? In the ancient world-view, there was a dome or an arc that stretched over and covered all of the earth. This was what appeared to people as the sky and it was on this sky that the heavenly bodies transited. The notion of an infinite universe that was deeply three-dimensional was not yet understood and this sky was almost like a two-dimensional canvas. Sometimes, portals or gates would open up in this come and water would pour through, and come down on earth as rain. It must mean, therefore, that there was a massive source of water up beyond the visible sky that was responsible for rains and floods. This is why we see in Gen 7:11, 8:2 the mention of “windows of heaven” which open and close, giving rise to the phenomenon of rain and floods. From that primeval water of Gen 1:2, it has to somehow be divided into the waters above and the waters on earth (and under the earth.)
[Kyle Greenwood, “Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science”]
The writer of Genesis was actually describing how the world, as he understood it, came about. It was working back from how he saw things to the beginning, rather than as a first principles approach to cosmogony. Interestingly, for this day, there was no “good” commendation given. Some would consider Gen 1:9-10 events of day two, and thus the “good” commendation can be found there.
Gen 1:9-10 (Day Three*)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד וְתֵרָאֶ֖ה הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And God said, “Gather the waters from under the heavens to a one place, and let dry ground appear,” and it was so.
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לַיַּבָּשָׁה֙ אֶ֔רֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵ֥ה הַמַּ֖יִם קָרָ֣א יַמִּ֑ים וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב
And God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters He called “seas”, and God saw that it was good.
The counterpart to the heavens created in day two was now being ordered in day three. The waters below the firmament must have originally covered everything (thus requiring the Spirit of God to hover over the surface) was now collected in places, revealing (soon to be) dry land. They have experienced enough floods to understand that waters can recede to let land appear. Under the heavens, we now have the juxtaposition of land with the seas. Once again, these were very basic features and categories in an ancient person’s view of the world.
*Some consider this part of day two so the next section begins day three.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֔שֶׁא עֵ֚שֶׂב מַזְרִ֣יעַ זֶ֔רַע עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙ לְמִינ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And God said, “Let sprout on the land, grass, herb that bears seed, fruit tree(s) that bears fruit of its kind, whose seed is in it, on the land.,” and it was so.
וַתּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ דֶּ֠שֶׁא עֵ֣שֶׂב מַזְרִ֤יעַ זֶ֙רַע֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וְעֵ֧ץ עֹֽשֶׂה־פְּרִ֛י אֲשֶׁ֥ר זַרְעוֹ־ב֖וֹ לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב
And the earth brought forth grass, herb that bears seed according to its kind, and tree(s) that make fruit whose seed is in it according to its own kind, and God saw that it was good.
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם שְׁלִישִֽׁי
And it was evening and it was morning. Day three.
This was a long day. After the land had appeared out of the waters, it could not be left barren. Vegetation was seen as part and parcel of what makes the land up, and so it belonged together with the “creation” of land. It was well understood that seeds were basic to continued production of herbs and trees, seeing as the ancients had been in agrarian cultures. Of course, in our scientific world-view, we are aware that plants also depend on water and light, and carbon-dioxide, and a host of other things for survival. The writer was not trying to supply the mechanics of plant growth as much as he was making a statement about how God must have created the world as he observed it. Keep in mind that at this point, the sun had not yet been created if we are to follow the sequence of Genesis, and yet each day was already punctuated by evenings and mornings, further underscoring that this was not written as history, but theology.
Gen 1:14-19 (Day Four)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יְהִ֤י מְאֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהַבְדִּ֕יל בֵּ֥ין הַיּ֖וֹם וּבֵ֣ין הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים
And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide between the day between the night, and let there be for signs and for appointed times and for days and years.
וְהָי֤וּ לִמְאוֹרֹת֙ בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם לְהָאִ֖יר עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens for light on the land.”
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וְאֵ֖ת הַכּוֹכָבִֽים
And God made the two great lights. The great light to rule the day and the little light to rule the night and the stars.
וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּרְקִ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לְהָאִ֖יר עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ
And God gave them in the firmament of the heavens to light the land.
וְלִמְשֹׁל֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם וּבַלַּ֔יְלָה וּֽלֲהַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֣ין הַחֹ֑שֶׁךְ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב
And to rule in the day and in the night and to divide between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good.
The two great lights were the sun and the moon, as was obvious to any person who wasn’t blind. These have actual Hebrew names – “shemesh” for sun, and “yareach” for moon – but neither of these proper nouns were used. What could have been the reason for this? “Shamash”, as it turns out, was also the name of the Mesopotamian sun god (and god of justice). It is possible that the more oblique language of “greater light” and “little light” was used to avoid the mention of these names because they were worshipped as gods in ancient times. Perhaps the writer was keen to present a monotheistic creation narrative, in which there was one god responsible for everything.
The sun and the moon served not only as light sources, but also play important calendrical functions. The word “moedim” in this verse is usually translated as seasons, possibly because the translators were thinking of the seasons of a year. The word itself, however, is almost always used in reference to appointed times of meeting and feasts of the Lord and translated as such. Here the writer, I believe, was anticipating the calendrical function of the moon, in particular, which was the basis for their lunar calendar. This explains the specific mention that they were for “signs”, as in the sign of a new month, or the sign of the beginning of a feast. This is a connection that appears many times in the rest of the Old Testament (eg. Dt 16:1, Ps 81:3).
Just as the waters under the firmament had to be divided again into land and seas, the lights in the firmament were further divided, into the sun for the day, and moon and stars for the night. In ancient times, these celestial bodies were often associated with deities and angels.
Gen 1:20-23 (Day Five)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה וְעוֹף֙ יְעוֹפֵ֣ף עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַל־פְּנֵ֖י רְקִ֥יעַ הַשָּׁמָֽיִם
And God said, “Let there abound in the seas an abundance of living soul(s), and flying birds over the land on the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים וְאֵ֣ת כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ׀ הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת אֲשֶׁר֩ שָׁרְצ֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם לְמִֽינֵהֶ֗ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־ע֤וֹף כָּנָף֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב
And God created the great sea-monsters and every living soul that moves which swarms the waters according to their kind, and all the winged birds according to their kind, and God saw that it was good.
וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֙יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָע֖וֹף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ
And God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and be great and fill the waters in the seas, and let the bird(s) be many in the land.
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם חֲמִישִֽׁי
And it was evening, and morning. Day five.
Where most bible versions translate the word “nephesh” here as “living creatures”, it is usually translated as “souls”, which can be used to mean living beings. It is interesting that animals were referred to as souls, and I think this goes back to the ancient notion of life as anything that breathes, whether it be humans or animals. When someone dies, the breathing stops and the soul leaves. Special mention was made about some “great sea-monsters” or “tanninim” which features in Ugaritic myths as a sea-monster that serves Yam, the god of the sea. It is unclear what this actually referred to for the writer of Genesis but it could be any of the great sea creatures that is seen to dominate the seas and rivers (Eze 29:3, Isa 27:1). It is there, I think, to represent the creatures of the sea in the same way that birds came to represent the creatures with wings.
[“Context of Scripture”, Ugaritic Myths, The Ba’lu Myth, CTA3, Anatu’s Response]
For the first time, God specifically blessed these souls, both in the sea and in the air, thus according them a status beyond that of vegetation. Not only that, they were given the command to multiply and to fill the earth. We notice the language of “abundance” and “fruitfulness” as being part of what God considers “good” and connected to blessings.
Gen 1:24-25 (Day Six)
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ נֶ֤פֶשׁ חַיָּה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ בְּהֵמָ֥ה וָרֶ֛מֶשׂ וְחַֽיְתוֹ־אֶ֖רֶץ לְמִינָ֑הּ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And God said, “Let the land bring forth living soul(s) according to its kind, beast(s) and moving things and living things of the land according to its own kind,” and it was so.
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֩ אֶת־חַיַּ֨ת הָאָ֜רֶץ לְמִינָ֗הּ וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ וְאֵ֛ת כָּל־רֶ֥מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב
And God made the animals of the land according to its kind and the beasts according to its kind and all moving things of the earth according to its kind, and God say that it was good.
Animals are more generic whereas beasts (or cattle in some cases) are more specific types of animals. These were clearly not conceived of as comprehensive categories, but observational categories, and would therefore have potential overlap. They were what the ancient readers would normally see in the world around them.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ
And God said, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness, and let him dominate the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and the beasts, and in all the land and over all moving things that moves over all the land.”
וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם
And God created the man in His image, in the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them.
וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ
And God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and be great (many) and fill the land and subdue it, and dominate the fish of the sea and the bird(s) of the heavens and all the animals that moves on the land.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה
And God said, “Behold, I give to you-all all the herbs that bears seeds which is on the face of all the land, and all the tree(s) which is in it, fruit bearing tree(s) that bears seeds, to you-all it shall be for food.”
וּֽלְכָל־חַיַּ֣ת הָ֠אָרֶץ וּלְכָל־ע֨וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם וּלְכֹ֣ל ׀ רוֹמֵ֣שׂ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֙ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה אֶת־כָּל־יֶ֥רֶק עֵ֖שֶׂב לְאָכְלָ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן
And to all the animals of the land and to all the bird(s) of the heavens and to all the moving things on the land which has a living soul in it, all green herbs for food, and it was so.
וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי
And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning. Day six.
We now come to the climax of the creation narrative, climbing up in status from vegetation to fish and birds, to animals and finally to man. There are many interesting things about these verses. For one, in Gen 1:26 God spoke in the plural, “in our image.” Some have called this a “majestic plural” meaning that it was a way to show the greatness of God by using the plural instead of the singular. On the other hand, in the next verse, with “in His image” the singular was used. Others have suggested that the plural here referred to the divine council that served with God. In any case, it is an interesting detail. What is clear, though, is that man sat on top of the hierarchy, and was given clear dominion over the other living things of the earth. The language of dominion may not sit well with modern day environmentalists but it is what the bible uses.
[Michael S. Heiser, “The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible”]
Man was uniquely made in the pattern or likeness of God. Male and female they were created, suggesting that this was a separate narrative from the Gen 2 narrative of Eden. The progression here is less chronological or sequential, as it is in terms of significance and ranking. This is another reason to think that the order of creation presented here is not meant to be taken literally or historically, but theologically.
Note that here, God gave man the rulership over all living things, but in Gen 1:29, He gave them only the plants for food. Likewise, in Gen 1:30, He gave the animals only plants for food. This would make sense especially for an agrarian culture. If taken literally, we would all be vegans or vegetarians! Like any good ruler, the responsibility and care for the welfare of the ruled is implied so care and stewardship is part of this dominion.
On this final day of creation, God pronounced the “good” verdict twice. First was in Gen 1:25 at the conclusion of the creation of the animals, and then again after the creation of man. God did not bless the animals as he did the fish and the birds earlier, but He blessed man with the same mandate to be fruitful and multiply. One could make the case that blessings, in this context, had to do with fruitfulness.
The categories of creation over the six-days are:-
- Darkness and deep waters
- Heavens and the earth
- Firmament. Division of waters above and below
- Dry land and seas
- Sun and moon, and stars
- Fish and birds
- Men and women
It seems to me that this was less of a chronological order of creation and more an order of importance of categories within creation, with humans being the most important within this hierarchy. Even from a scientific point of view, if one were to take this order literally, it would mean that earth would be created before light was created. It would mean that waters were not created and were only divided. It would mean that evenings and mornings existed without the sun being first created. Then we have the problem with the “firmament” which simply does not have an equivalent within the modern scientific categories. Some people try to relate this to “atmosphere” but there is nothing in the language or context that suggests that it is anything other than a part of the ancient world-view that has no place within modern cosmology. There is also so much missing from this sequence, even if one were to take it only as the sequence of the creation of earth itself and not of the universe.
Others have pointed out the correspondence between days 1-3 and days 4-6 a follows:-
[Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology (p. 106). InterVarsity Press.]
Here we see the poetic structure of Genesis 1 as a juxtaposition of form and purpose. God first brings order out of disorder, and creates the “container” forms, and then fills them up. This further points the passage away from chronological history towards theological narrative.
The main message of Gen 1 seems to be:-
- There is only one true God in all of creation
- Everything else is created by God
- Man has a special place in creation, indicated by the fact that he was created in God’s image, and the rank he occupies in the hierarchy of creation
- Man is given a mandate to rule
- Man is blessed so that he might be fruitful
- Creation was made for man
- Man owes everything to God, and should rightly serve God
- Order and function/roles are good. Disorder is bad
The creation hymn is clearly theological in design. If it happens to coincide with some theories of the creation of the physical world, all the better. The writer, here, does not seem to be concerned with chronology or science, but with theology.
There are, nevertheless, proponents for a literal reading of Gen 1. These are typically Creationists who take the narrative as literal history, and even scientifically accurate documentary. I looked at some of the evidence they put forward to argue for this but have found that much of it is speculative and circumstantial.
It seems appropriate to end with the words of J. I. Packer, a well renowned scholar and thinker, written in response to “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics”:-
What the Bible says about the facts of nature is as true and trustworthy as anything else it says. However, it speaks of natural phenomena as they are spoken of in ordinary language, not in the explanatory technical terms of modern science. It accounts for natural events in terms of the action of God, not in terms of causal links within the created order; and it oflen describes natural processes figuratively and poetically, not analytically and prosaically as modern science seeks to do. This being so, differences of opinion as to the correct scientific account to give of natural facts and events which Scripture celebrates can hardly be avoided
It should be remembered, however, that Scripture was given to reveal God, not to address scientific issues in scientific terms, and that, as it does not use the language of modern science, so it does not require scientific knowledge about the internal processes of God’s creation for the understanding of its essential message about God and ourselves. Scripture interprets scientific knowledge by relating it to the revealed purpose and work of God, thus establishing an ultimate context for the study and reform of scientific ideas. It is not for scientific theories to dictate what Scripture may and may not say, although extra-biblical information will sometimes helpfully expose a misinterpretation of Scripture.