In the Beginning. Part 1: The first week
What happened at the beginning of time?
The best place to begin reading a book is at the beginning. It’s important to read the beginning in order to understand what happens later. This article begins a series that looks at the beginning of the bible. This helps us understand later events in the Bible, like when Jesus Christ came to earth.
Interpreting the Bible
As “all Scripture is God-breathed”, the original text contained no errors or mistakes (Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). The words in the original language were inspired by God as the human writers of the Bible were given the words by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21). That is why it is often referred to as the Word of God. In fact Scripture is the only source of revelation that is not affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:20-22). The Bible is our only reliable authority on the creation of the world—we have no other eye-witness account.
While Scripture is accurate, it is not exhaustive. However, it is sufficient to make us “wise for salvation” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17NIV). It is a concise book with no unnecessary detail. God gives us the important things that we need to know and we need to use our intellect to apply these to our situations in life.
God intended that ordinary people would be able to understand the Bible. For example, fathers were to teach the Scriptures to their children at home (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Also, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They only need the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
The meaning of scripture is the meaning the inspired authors intended to convey to their generation. The only exception to this rule is prophecies which also have another meaning when they are fulfilled at a future time. So, it is important to find out how the original readers would have understood the words. After all, it was their language being used in their circumstances.
The Bible is a theological book. It contains the message of salvation from the penalty of our sin. But this theology is set in a world of history and science. It uses the physical world to illustrate and reveal spiritual truths. Although it is not a history book, the history in the bible is accurate. Although it is not a science book, the science in the bible is also accurate. What it says is exactly true. Because it is the inspired word of God, its language communicated accurately to its original readers and a good translation communicates accurately to us today.
The interpretation of scripture requires consideration of the text and the context in which it was written. This includes knowledge of the language, culture and history of that time. For example, is the text a literal narrative or is it poetic? It should be taken literally unless there is ample reason to believe the text was meant to be taken figuratively, such as metaphors, symbolism and parables. Also, other passages of scripture may help to confirm the meaning of a difficult passage.
The Context of Genesis
The book of Genesis was complied and written by Moses in the 14th century BC from oral history and revelation from God (Acts 7:22; 15:1; Genesis 17; 2 Peter 1:21). Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Until he was weaned, his mother would have taught him the history of the Hebrew people. When he was older, Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in words and action” (Acts 7:22).
Moses wrote the first five books of the bible while travelling between Egypt and Canaan. The people in both of these lands worshipped idols. The forces of nature were personified as pagan gods. These mythical beings included the sun god, the river Nile, and the golden calf in Egypt and sun, moon and stars, Baal – the god of the rain and storm, Asherah – the goddess of the sea and fertility in Canaan. The ten plagues were directed against the gods of Egypt. On the way to Canaan they moved through lands where people tried to seduce them into idolatry and immorality. Middle Eastern creation myths usually involve how one of the gods triumphs in a mighty battle against the forces of chaos and then reigns over the other gods and creates order out of chaos.
Genesis was written to these Israelites to educate them about the true God and protect them from idolatry. Moses is declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation and in history; Baal is not the true god. The New Testament affirms this as real history. Jesus quotes v.27 in Mt 19:4 and Mk. 10:6 and Adam and Eve are mentioned several times (Lk.3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).
Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. It is a book of beginnings; containing a selective history according to God’s purposes. The word “Genesis” comes from the Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning”. The Hebrew name for this book was “in the beginning”. So Genesis describes the beginning of the universe, the earth and all its inhabitants of human beings, marriage, family, society, civilization, sin and redemption and how God relates to His creation. It contains the original and true account of creation and shows who God is, who we are, what our basic problem is and God’s solution to that problem. In this article we look at Genesis 1:1-2:3.
God is the Creator
The bible begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). So the answer to the question of the origin of the universe and of life is given in the first verse of the bible. The fact that God refers to Himself as “us” seems to be a reference to the trinity (Gen. 1:26; 3:22). This is confirmed in the New Testament, which says that Jesus created everything (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16).
How did God Create?
God created the universe in a series of creative acts over six days (Gen. 1:1-31). “God said” is mentioned nine times in this passage. For example, “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (v.3). He spoke and light shone in a world that was previously dark. So the pattern is that God spoke and it happened (Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 11:3). His creative acts are also described as “God created” (v.1,21,27), and “God made” (v.7,16,25). The outcome is stated, but few details are given of the process. After all, this was written in the 14th century BC to be understood by ordinary people. This helps understanding by readers with a wide range of linguistic skills and intellect. So, according to the Bible, God created everything out of nothing, whereas according to evolution, nothing organised itself into everything.
I believe that over this period God created a mature world that was fully functioning. For example, Adam and Eve were adults, not babies or children; they were called man and wife right after Eve was created (Gen. 2:25). Also, they and the animals needed food to eat from the very beginning of their creation. Of course, this was a miracle and Moses was familiar with miracles (Ex. 10:1).
God also created the laws of science which have operated since the creation. These laws do not include the act of creation itself. For example, the first law of thermodynamics states that energy and matter (remember e=mc2) is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. We cannot apply these laws to the week of creation when energy and matter were made. This means that today’s operational science does not apply to origins like creation. It cannot explain miracles. We should be careful not to extrapolate to areas outside the area of our observations. Like Job, we need to be reminded by God that no-one was there in the beginning, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).
When did God Create?
It happened “In the beginning” (v.1). This was the beginning of time because God created time. God was all that existed before this occasion, because He is timeless (Psalm 90:2). Jesus said, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6). So this first week when Adam and Eve were made was the “beginning of creation”. The Israelites knew it was only a few thousand years before their times. They had the genealogies from Adam to Noah; Shem to Abraham; Isaac, Jacob, Levi; Levi to Moses and then down to their generation (Gen. 5:1-32; 11:10-26; Ex.6:16-20,26-27). Luke supplies similar information in the genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38).
Why did God Create?
Creation shows God’s power and divine character (Rom. 1:20). Like the universe, God exists, and is orderly and reasonable and good. God is also personal, like mankind. He greater than all other gods. As He has chosen to show His love through human begins such as us, God created the earth to be inhabited (Is. 45:18). Adam and Eve are described as being the last of God’s creative work (v.27).
Why did God take so long?
After each creative act, the bible says “And there was evening, and there was morning—the X day”, where “X” ranges from “first”to “sixth” (v.5,8,13,19,23,31). Then it says that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3). The instances in this chapter of the Hebrew word for day, “yom”, used in conjunction with “night”, obviously refer to daylight hours (v.5,14,16,18). What about the six times that “yom” is qualified by “evening and morning” and a number? What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ time? Is it daylight, 24 hours, some other period of time, a moment, or a theological category? A period of 24 hours is the only meaning that makes sense in this context. This is consistent with the fact that a Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight. This means that a day is comprised of an evening (night) followed by a morning (daylight). Genesis 1 is also a sequence of events in time like the lifetimes in the genealogy of Genesis 5.
The sun, moon and stars are to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (v.14). Obviously this instance of the word “days” means periods of 24 hours. This phrase also shows the Hebrews had words for longer periods than day which could be used by the author if required. But the language used for the six days in Genesis 1 makes no suggestion of a longer period of time.
Why did God take six days? After all, He could have made everything in six seconds! God’s six days of work and one day for rest were an example for His people. According to the fourth commandment, they were to work for six days, but not do any work on the seventh day because God made the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Ex. 20:8-11). This only makes sense if the days of the creation week were the same as those of the working week. God set the example of six days work and one day rest. The working week is based on the creation week. That’s why there is seven days in a week. The seven-day week has no basis outside Scripture.
Creation of the Universe
The clear intention of Genesis 1 is to give the Israelites an account of the origin of the universe. It shows God as the creator of time, matter and energy and everything within the universe. They needed to know why their God was greater than the gods and idols of the Egypt and Canaan. Many pagan creation myths were probably corruptions of the original account of creation recorded in Genesis.
Moses summarized God’s creative work as follows:
Day 1: Space, matter and energy, and light created (v.1-5).
Day 2: Matter and energy distributed across the cosmos (v.6-8).
Day 3: Dry land and vegetation were created on earth (v.9-13).
Day 4: The sun, moon, stars and planets provided light and their cycles provided measurements of times and seasons (v.14-19).
Day 5: Aquatic creatures and birds were created (v.20-23).
Day 6: Animals and the first people, Adam and Eve, were created (v.24-31).
On Day 7 God rested (Gen. 2:2-3). He had finished His work of creation. Now he would sustain His creation and after man’s sin He would change the universe and then reconcile and redeem (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
The fact that God created different kinds of organisms which reproduced “according to their kinds” is mentioned ten times in v.11,12,21,24,25. This implies that each “kind” of creature is distinctive, which is consistent with the statement that “All flesh is not the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (1 Cor. 15:39). Their descendants never change from one “kind” of life to another.
What is Moses saying to the Israelites? Our God supersedes all the others. He is a powerful Creator who made everything. He even made what other nations considered to be gods. The true God is separate from creation. This is the same message that Paul told in Romans 1.
People: In the image of God
The fact that mankind was made in the image of God is stated three times (v.26-27). It shows that people were in the image of God from the beginning. What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ day? They used the term to describe a likeness between parents and children—Seth was described as being in Adam’s likeness (Gen. 5:3). Also pagan idols were represented as images (Lev. 26:1).
To answer this question we will see what Adam and Eve do that is unique to humanity. First, the statement that is made twice with respect to humanity but to no other creature is that they will “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v.26, 28). For example, Adam was to tend and care for the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). So mankind was to rule over the rest of creation: we are the link between God and creation. (Ps. 8:5-8). But due to sin “at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). We have great power and responsibility. Second, Adam was prohibited from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). People are conscious of moral values: we call some things good and others bad. This moral nature of mankind is different to the instincts of the animal world. Third, Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Mankind is creative and inventive: this involves imagination, the ability to think in conceptual terms (abstract thinking), and the ability to see a thing with the eye of the mind and then create it physically. Fourth, Adam and Eve talked with God (Gen. 3:8-13). People can communicate and use language to convey ideas and discuss issues. In particular we can communicate with God.
Elsewhere the Bible says that people are comprised of spirit, soul and body (1 Th. 5:23). No other creature on earth is a spirit. Our spirits live forever, but there is no mention of life after death for animals. Maybe it is the spirit that is made in the image of God.
Creation was very good
“God saw that it was good” is mentioned 7 times in Genesis 1 (v.4,10,12,18,21,25). This means that it is in line with His divine purposes and in accordance with His divine character. Also, “good” is the opposite of “evil” and fruit is “good” food (Gen. 2:9). It finishes by saying, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (v.31). This is a strong indicator that the world originally had no death or disease.
It was an excellent creation that had not yet been spoilt by sin. Sin is never described in the Bible as being “good” and death is called the “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). This original creation is very similar to last two chapters of Revelation, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” because “no longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 21:4; 22:3). Peter said that after Christ returns God will restore everything (Acts 3:21).
Because there was no sin, there was no death of animals or humans. In fact the animals and people were vegetarian at the beginning (v.29-30) and in the restored state (Isa. 11:6-9: 65:25). As people and animals faced no predators, they were in harmony and there was no fear. There was peace on earth.
Lessons for us
The Bible shows that the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days with one days rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week. There was no sin in the original creation and we can look forward to the restoration to this in the new heavens and new earth described at the end of the bible (2 Pt. 3:13). In the meantime we can praise God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
Adam and Eve were the climax of creation. They were made in the image of God to rule the rest of creation. They were also creative, with a moral nature and the ability to communicate with God. Even though our world has been spoilt by sin, people still bear the image of God. This gives them great significance.
Becoming a Christian is like being recreated in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We become a child of God. Do we think and act like an image of God? Like an image of Christ? Are we using our personality and spirituality like God? Are we behaving in His likeness? Through Christ in our lives, believers are becoming more Godlike (2 Cor. 3:18).
 A day is the time for one rotation of the earth about its own axis. A month is approximately the time for one orbit of the moon around the earth. A year is the time for one orbit of the earth around the sun. There is no such physical relationship for the week.
Written, July 2004
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 2: The first marriage