What is creation?
In the Bible, creation refers to one of two things. It can refer to what God created or to the activity of God in creating.
Where do we read of this in Scripture?
There are many references to creation in Scripture but the obvious and main explanation of it is in Genesis 1 and 2.
What are some key principles which we should bear in mind as we seek to understand these chapters?
First, that all Scripture is inspired by God and is therefore infallible; see here.
Second, that Genesis is part of a larger section of Scripture which we call the Pentateuch or which the Jews called “the law” or the Torah.
What does Torah mean?
Torah means teaching or doctrine. source
Explain the second item in the list above.
It is important to bear in mind that Genesis is part of a larger section of Scripture because we know that the Pentateuch was written for a reason. We need to interpret the creation account in view of this larger purpose.
What was the purpose of the Pentateuch?
Moses wrote the Pentateuch for two reasons:
- to teach Israel about God;
- to teach Israel their history.
How does Genesis 1 and 2 fit into this larger purpose?
Genesis 1 and 2 are works of theology; i.e. they are meant to lead us to a better understanding of who God is.
Why was it so critical that Moses give Israel a work of theology at this point in their history?
It is not clear exactly when Moses wrote or even finished the Pentateuch. Nevertheless, some time before his death, he gave Israel this book of theology. Israel had just come out of Egypt with its wide assortment of different gods and religious practices. This necessitated careful instruction both as to who God is and who Israel is. It was God’s mercy to provide Israel with this instruction.
What is the first thing Scripture teaches us about Creation?
The first thing we are given is the simple statement: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) Here we are taught both who created and what was created. The Creator is God and everything that exists was created by Him.
Does this verse teach us when God created this universe?
It does not, neither does any other verse in the Bible.
Is it not possible to use the genealogies given us in Genesis four and five to discover when God created the world?
No, this is an incorrect use of these genealogies. Young points out that these genealogies are not meant to be comprehensive; there are gaps in these which prevent us from using them to date certain events; see here (page 52).
What is the next thing we are taught about creation?
The next thing we are taught is the condition of the earth. Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
What is meant by formless and void?
This means that the earth was without form or order and that it was empty. From Isaiah 45, we can learn that the earth was uninhabitable at this time. (Isaiah 45:18)
For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens—He is God; He formed the earth and fashioned it; He established it; He did not create it to be empty but formed it to be inhabited:
From this verse, it appears that God did not create the world empty.
This is true. In fact, the word “empty” in Isaiah 45:18 is the word tohu תֹהוּ, the same word translated “formless” in Genesis 1:2.
If God did not create the earth formless and empty, then how did it get that way?
The Bible does not answer this question; several suggestions have been put forth.
How long did it take from the time God created the universe as described in Genesis 1:1 and the earth becoming formless and empty in Genesis 1:2?
Again, the Bible does not answer this question.
In Genesis 1:2, why was the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the waters?
This shows that even though the earth had become a chaotic, swirling mass of water and other stuff, still God was sovereign over the entire earth even in its confused condition. He had not lost control over it; neither had it slipped from His grasp. He was simply preparing a canvas as it were on which He would display His artistry.
Are the first three verses of Genesis 1 to be understood sequentially?
See here for an explanation.
How are we to understand God’s work in this week of creation?
The earth was formless and empty. Now God resolves this issue by ordering and filling the earth.
Explain this more.
The creation history shows us that God took the formless earth and gave it form. He did this by separating light and darkness, the waters from the waters (a vertical separation), and the waters from the dry land (a horizontal separation). Then God resolved the emptiness problem and filled His creation with vegetation, moon, stars, sun, aquatic and bird life, land animals, and finally humans.
Who was the first theologian to understand the creation week this way?
Thomas taught this in his Summa and perhaps Augustine before him.
In recapitulating the Divine works, Scripture says (Gen. 2:1): So the heavens and the earth were finished and all the furniture of them, thereby indicating that the work was threefold.
- In the first work, that of creation, the heaven and the earth were produced, but as yet without form.
- In the second, or work of distinction, the heaven and the earth were perfected, either by adding substantial form to formless matter, as Augustine holds (Gen. ad lit. ii. 11), or by giving them the order and beauty due to them, as other holy writers suppose.
- To these two works is added the work of adornment, which is distinct from perfect. For the perfection of the heaven and the earth regards, seemingly, those things that belong to them intrinsically, but the adornment, those that are extrinsic, just as the perfection of a man lies in his proper parts and forms, and his adornment, in clothing or such like.
Now just as distinction of certain things is made most evident by their local movement, as separating one from another; so the work of adornment is set forth by the production of things having movement in the heavens, and upon the earth. But it has been stated above (Q. LXIX., A. 1), that three things are recorded as created, namely, the heaven, the water, and the earth; and these three received their form from the three days’ work of distinction, so that heaven was formed on the first day; on the second day the waters were separated; and on the third, the earth was divided into sea and dry land. So also is it in the work of adornment; on the first day of this work, which is the fourth of creation, are produced the lights, to adorn the heaven by their movements; on the second day, which is the fifth, birds and fishes are called into being, to make beautiful the intermediate element, for they move in air and water, which are here taken as one; while on the third day, which is the sixth, animals are brought forth, to move upon the earth and adorn it. It must also here be noted that Augustine’s opinion (Gen. ad lit. v. 5) on the production of lights is not at variance with that of other holy writers, since he says that they were made actually, and not merely virtually, for the firmament has not the power of producing lights, as the earth has of producing plants. Wherefore Scripture does not say: Let the firmament produce lights, though it says: Let the earth bring forth the green herb. See Q70 art. 1 here.
What level of scientific understanding did the authors of the Old Testament have?
These authors appear to have written with their own limited understanding. God did not choose to give them a full understanding of the science which we take for granted today. For all this, the biblical authors were protected from all error by the Spirit of God; see here. Bavinck writes:
But when Scripture, from its own perspective precisely as the book of religion, comes in contact with other sciences and also sheds its light on them, it does not all at once cease to be the Word of God but remains that Word. Even when it speaks about the genesis of heaven and earth, it does not present saga or myth or poetic fantasy but offers, in accordance with its own clear intent, history, the history that deserves credence and trust. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:495.
Cohen writes: “Interpreters must remember that the Bible describes natural phenomena geocentrically, anthropocentrically, and in the language of appearance.” Gary G. Cohen, “Hermeneutical Principles and Creation Theories,” Grace Journal 5, no. 3 (1964): 19.
(16) for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; (Colossians 1:16 ASV)