Flora or Plant kingdom, History, Humanity, Life matters, Universe (Space), Wildlife or Animal kingdom

Starting from a point in time when two elements existed

The First Account (Genesis 1:1– 2:3)

The traditional rendering of the first verse “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” was undisputed and universal until learned Jewish Rabbinic scholars in the Middle Ages pointed out an equally possible alternative: When God began to create the heavens and the earth – the earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water – God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

Rashi.JPG
16th-century depiction of Rashi (רבי שלמה יצחקי) Salomon Isaacides or Salomon de Troyes, (22 February 1040 – 13 July 1105),

The great scholar Rashi (full name: Rabbi Shelomo ben Yitshak, or Solomon son of Isaac) who lived 1040 – 1105 in the south of France, and who had great influence on both Jewish and Christian scholarship, proposed this translation but tradition proved stronger so that to this day most versions follow the older rendering.  One has to take this older rendering as a sort of summary statement, but a not too happy one, since the actual creation of heaven is recorded later, in vv. 7–8, while there is no account of the creation of earth unless in the first verse.  So the traditional rendering is not stating what had already occurred at the time conceived, since earth is assumed to exist in the very next verse 2, but heaven is created only in vv. 7–8.  As conventionally rendered the first verse fits the modern scientists’ ‘big bang’ theory, but it does not fit the rest of the narrative, which concludes, after the final creative acts,

“thus the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed”

which is a most appropriate ending to a narrative beginning “When God began to create.”

By the new rendering the account does not concern itself with the origin of matter, but starts from a point in time when two elements existed: earth and sea, but chaotically disposed, and God then begins his programme of work to yield a functional heavens and earth, with man on earth as the peak of his creation, created in the image of God.
We accept this new rendering and are convinced that many modern translations relegate it to the margin only to avoid upsetting devout believers who feel they can face the problems of geology and the theory of evolution armed with the traditional rendering which is simple, emphatic and easily memorised.  Significantly the modern translation put out by the Jewish Publication Society of America, The Torah. The Five Books of Moses.  A new translation (Philadelphia, 1962), had the courage to use the new translation in its text, putting the traditional one in the margin.

Wenceslas Hollar - Creation of the earth (State 1)
Wenceslas Hollar – Creation of the earth (State 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus the account begins with the earth and sea in disarray, and the first act of creation – on the first day – is of light, which alternates with darkness: day and night.  On the second day the cosmic water is separated into upper and lower parts, by a ‘vault’. The Hebrew word means something beaten out, like a metal plate, and the AV’s ‘firmament’ is unhelpful.  This plate serves to hold back the upper water and is called ‘heaven’.  On the third day the lower water was cleared off the earth into the sea so that plant life flourished on earth.  On the fourth day sun and moon are created in the sky to separate night from day, to provide light, and to supply the cultic calendar.  The Israelite calendar was lunar.  On the fifth day water creatures are created, also birds, on the sixth day land animals, and finally the human race.

It is worthy of note that not everything so created originated from the simple divine fiat.  Plants arose out of the earth:

‘God said, “Let the earth produce growing things.”‘ (1:11).

It is therefore unwise to assume that this account was meant as a full explanation of the actual processes whereby the universe reached its present state.  If God had given us any such account we may be certain that it would be well above our heads.

If one asks the purpose and function of this first account the answer is not hard to find.  It sets out to explain that the universe was created and developed by God to lead up to the creation of man, who alone of the various creatures was made ‘in the image of God’.  The universe was not the result of chance, but of a divine purpose and each stage as achieved (save for the plate between the two levels of water) was declared ‘good’.  It is unfortunate that to those brought up in a Christian environment such basic truths are self-evident and as such do not excite the respect they deserve.  Instead the main concern can easily become a determination to justify the truth of the narrative by showing that it conforms to modern science, or, if there appears to be a conflict between the narrative and science, to cast doubt on the validity of the science.  We shall return to this point later, but for the present attention will be drawn to some relevant aspects of the narrative.

First, with the correct translation of verses 1 and 2, no interest is taken in the origins of matter as such.  Earth and water are taken as existing already in the early verses, and the interest lies in the ways these elements were husbanded by God to prepare for life on earth, leading up to man.

Secondly, the regularly repeated ‘God said’, contrasting with the only occasional indication of the modus operandi, shows clearly that greater importance is attached to the fact that God achieved the ends he intended, rather than to the details of the processes involved.        Unlike other ancient Near Eastern languages, Hebrew has a special verb for God’s creating, b~r~‘,which is the second word in the narrative, and this confirms the emphasis that the inspired writer intended.

Thirdly, the concept involved in the creation of manin the image of God’ is not of course concerned with physical characteristics.  The ancients were as able as we are to perceive that the human body in both general form and inside parts is quite like those of some animals, monkeys and apes for example.  The similarity intended is then not in physique, but in those attributes not shared with the animals, such as free will and the potential for spirituality.

Fourthly, the six days of God’s work followed by one of rest is of course a model for the Sabbath in human society.

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Preceding

An openingschapter explaining why things are like they are and why we may have hope for better things

Bereshith 1-2 The Creation of the World – The Seven Days

How did the original readers understand Gen 1:1?

We haven’t always insisted that Gen 1 is literal 6*24 hours

Next: Account of origin of man, sin and death

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Additional reading

  1. A viewpoint on creation
  2. From nothingness, except an eternal Being, the Ruach brought into being
  3. From dust and breath into living beings
  4. Creator and Blogger God 1 Emptiness and mouvement
  5. Creator and Blogger God 2 Image and likeness
  6. The World framed by the Word of God
  7. Creation purpose and warranty
  8. God’s Plan, Purpose and teachings
  9. Means of creations
  10. An anarchistic reading of the Bible (2)—Creation and what follows
  11. Scripture about Creation and Creator Deity
  12. From waste and void coming into being by God’s Word
  13. The very very beginning 2 The Word and words
  14. Genesis – Story of creation 1 Genesis 1:1-25 Creation of things
  15. Creation of the earth and man #1 Planet for living beings in a pre-Adamic world
  16. Coming to the creation of human beings in the image of God
  17. Necessity of a revelation of creation 1 Works of God and works of man
  18. Coming to the creation of human beings in the image of God
  19. Created in the image of the Elohim to use their likeness properly
  20. Different principle about the origin and beginning of everything
  21. Creation Creator and Creation
  22. Blackness, nothingness, something, void
  23. The World framed by the Word of God
  24. God’s Word Framing universe
  25. Jehovah God Maker of the entire universe served by a well-trained army
  26. Cosmos creator and human destiny

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Further reading

  1. Creation
  2. Quantum Creation, part 1
  3. Quantum Creation, part 2
  4. The Creator
  5. Heaven and Water
  6. Common Sense
  7. In the Image of God
  8. The Image of God (Or, How Two Become One)
  9. Made in the Image of God
  10. More Observations on the Image of God
  11. The image of God in us
  12. Image of God (a poem)
  13. We’re the Projection
  14. Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 1: The Garden of Eden
  15. Adam, Evolution, and the Imago Dei
  16. What difference does the doctrine of humans being in “the image of God” make?
  17. You were made in the image of God not a monkey

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