Genesis 1

Taught Gospel Doctrine today.  I had intended to do something fancy but the good ideas weren’t there.  So we just read together.  Although the lesson specified Moses 2-3, I opted to read from Genesis 1 for two reasons.  First, once you have a handle on Genesis 1 it is both easy and enlightening to compare it with Moses 2.  Second, it makes sense to work with the Bible as much as possible since that’s what many will have in common with their neighbors and friends.  So off to Genesis 1…


1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,  2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Most modern translations eschew the AV’s “in the beginning” in favor a reading that takes explicit notice of the opening verbs to yield a sentence that runs something like, “when God began to create the heavens and the earth.”  This sometimes prompts people to ask what God was doing before he began his creative enterprise.  Martin Luther had, I think, the appropriate answer when he said, “creating a hell for those who ask that question.”  That got a bit of a laugh.

Now it’s important to note that the word translated as create is used by our Hebrew writers only for the activities of God.  This lexical discipline makes it clear that whatever God was doing, it was qualitatively different from the sorts of things humans involve themselves in.

Now there’s darkness on the face of the deep before God begins to work.  By the time of Second Isaiah, however, God’s role had been expanded to include creating darkness as well:

Isaiah 45:7   7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.

I personally like the idea that God created darkness.  It reinforces the idea that all of reality, even the apparently less pleasant parts, are imbued with God’s goodness.  But there’s something good about darkness, as well.  It’s one of two times when we’re not required to be productive.  The other “rest” is, of course, the Sabbath.

Finally, there’s the “wind from God” or, as the AV puts it, “the Spirit of God.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated three ways according to context: spirit, wind, or breath.  Translators who opt for the idea of the Spirit sweeping across the waters are also usually fans of reading a triune God back onto the Hebrew Bible.  Modern translations tend to select “wind.”  In either case, the import is the same.  Wind or Spirit, God is the source and this first notice of motion presages the changes that are to follow.

Day 1:

3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Here we find the first of three modalities of creation: divine fiat.  God speaks and it happens.  Here also is the first notice that God finds the results of his work “good.”  I’ve often wondered exactly what that meant, that is, does it refer to beauty, functionality, morality, or what.  Probably all of the above, but I’m not sure.

In v.4 we find the second mode of creation: separation.  The universe started out formless and void so creation moves toward life-sustaining organization pervaded with generational potential to fill it.  The last element of the creative act is naming.  It may be that some of Genesis’s earlier audiences (probably aural) understood naming as something that anchored existence.  In any case, naming always follows the creative act.

Finally the last thing that happens is that God sets up the first in a series of relationships.  In this case, he links time and light and calls it the first day.

Day 2:

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.  8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

God always uses that phrase “let there be” for celestial object: light, the sky, and the celestial lights in v. 14.  The word that is translated “dome” is elsewhere unattested but it has a verbal cognate that has to do with hammering out metal.  So this is a three level cosmology: the earth, the abyss, and the heavens above the earth.  The primordial water is separated so that some of it is stored above the sky to become rain and some is left on the earth.

Finally, notice that God does not yet judge his work, that is, there is no notice that God examined what he had done and called it “good.”  It may be that the phrase has just dropped out, or it may be that it was deliberately omitted.  As it stands, the waters are not quite yet in a position to do much good because there is no dry land.  Although rain could fall, it wouldn’t do much good falling on an undifferentiated ocean.

Day 3:

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.  11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.  12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.  13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

During the third day God twice notes that his work is good.  The first notice comes after the separation of land and sea, while the second marks judges the success of the new plant life.  This plant life appears because of the third mode of creation, that is, God creates by giving generative powers to the earth.  For Genesis’ earliest audiences, this may have encouraged the idea that the fecundity of the earth was not the result of a fertility goddess.  Considering what fertility rites typically entail, this probably engendered a bit of disappointment in certain circles.

So that’s all we got through!  Probably the least comprehensive GD class ever, but that’s the way it went.  If I teach twenty-three lessons this year, and each averages thirteen verses, that’s about three hundred verses.  I think I can rise to the occasion…  😉

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