DIG: Why is there no room for evolution in this verse? Which came first? Matter or God? What Hebrew word is used for God throughout the first chapter? Because Elohim is a plural noun, what conclusion can we come to? What theologies does Genesis 1:1 refute? Why is this verse so important?
REFLECT: How significant is it to you that you were created rather than merely being the result of some cosmic accident? How does being created change the purpose for you life? How special does it make you feel to know that God had you specifically in mind before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)?
This is the foundational verse of the Bible. If Genesis is the foundational book, and Chapter 1 is the foundational
chapter, then verse 1 is the foundational verse. It is the foundation of all foundations and thus it is the most important verse in the
Scriptures. If you really believe Genesis 1:1, then you will not find it difficult to believe anything else recorded in the Bible. That is, if God really created all things, then He controls all things and can do all things.5
On February 5, 1971, Apollo 14 commander Edgar Mitchell placed on the moon a microfilm packet containing a complete Bible and one
verse of the Bible written out in sixteen different languages: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This is a summary statement that introduces the Bible and will be explained in more detail from 1:2 to 2:3. But it is vitally important that if we are to ever fully understand anything in the Bible, or in the world in general, that we must first understand this verse. Therefore, let us consider each word in this foundational verse.
In the beginning: This is one Hebrew word bereshith. The Gospel of John starts with the same words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). Elohim made everything but Himself. He has always existed. Moses understood this when he wrote: Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God (Psalm 90:2). Some modern translators, trying to find a way to accommodate both evolution and creation and account for billions of years in the creation story, have suggested a weaker translation of bereshith to mean, “In the beginning when God created,” “In the beginning of God’s creating,” or “When God began to create.”6 Although Hebrew scholars recognize that this is a grammatically permissible translation, the context does not allow it. The purpose is clearly to tell about the beginning of all things; whereas this kind of faulty translation only raises more questions than it answers.
One could hardly think of a better way to begin the Bible than with these moving words, where Elohim teaches us that He is
the Creator of all that exists and He brought the world into existence a long time ago. No one knows exactly when the beginning
was. But the TANAKH is far more interested in the fact of creation than the time of creation.7
God: The first mention here of the divine name is the Hebrew Elohim, the name of God that stresses the idea of omnipotence and sovereignty. He is the God of creation and destruction. This is clearly indicated by the fact that from 1:1 to 2:4 the word Elohimis used 35 times alone.8 He has no beginning because He is the beginning. He existed before all things. This fact is brought to light only in the Bible. All other religions and philosophies begin, not with God, but with preexisting matter or energy in some form. But for believers, the Bible starts with God and then matter is brought into existence. Elohim is the name used throughout the first chapter of Genesis.9
The word Elohimin its Hebrew form is a plural noun. The -im ending makes it a masculine plural. Because it is a plural noun, it opens the door to plurality in
the Godhead. But this was something the rabbis did not like to deal with because they did not believe in the Trinity. The word does not prove
the Trinity, but it opens the door. Elohim used progressive revelation to reveal
Himself and the Trinity in the Bible. The door is opened in Genesis to the possibility of a triune God, in Isaiah 48:16 we have the clearest example of the Trinity in the
TANAKH, and by the time we get to the Renewed Covenant, the doctrine of progressive revelation is clearly established. The Bible teaches that God is one
(Deut 6:4; First Cor 8:4). At the same time the Bible just as clearly teaches that one God exists in three
Persons and is, therefore, also a Trinity (Matthew 28:19;
Second Cor 12:14). And it would seem that all three Persons were active in
creation from the beginning: God the Father (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-2), God
the Son, or the Word (John 1:3 and 10), and
the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2).
Based on what God is able to do in 1:1, it tells us two things about
Him. First, Elohim is self-sufficient. There is no need for anyone else or anything else. He did not create mankind because He needed fellowship because fellowship already existed from all eternity past within
the Godhead. Secondly, God is eternal and unchangeable. The Bible makes no attempt to prove that God exists. This opening verse of Genesis simply takes this fact for granted, as though it were so obvious that only a fool would say there is no God (Psalm 14:1).10
The Hebrew verb for create, bara, always has God as its subject. Only God can create, only Elohim can call into existence that which did not exist. It is never used of human activity. We can “make” things or “form” things, but we can never create things. The universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible (Hebrews 11:3). Bara is used very sparingly in this chapter. We are told that God created the heavens and the earth (1:1), the great creatures of the sea (1:21), and man (1:27). So that special verb is reserved for the most crucial items in Elohim’s program of creation. It is not used indiscriminately.11
Bara is used five different ways throughout Scripture. First, of the universe and its contents (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 40:26 and 28, Isaiah 42:5 and Psalm 89:12). Secondly, of the cosmic forces of nature (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 4:13). Thirdly, of the creation of living creatures (Genesis 1:21 and 27 (three times); Genesis 5:1-2 (three times); Genesis 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalm 89:47; Isaiah 45:12); of Israel and the believing remnant (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 43:1 and 7); of the transformation and the renewal of things (Numbers 16:30; Psalm 51:10; Isaiah 41:20, 45:8, 57:19, 65:17-18; Jeremiah 31:22). Therefore, when you see the word bara, or created, it means that God created these, creatio ex nihilo, from nothing and He did it effortlessly.
Consequently, what we have in the first three Hebrew words of the Bible, bereshith bara Elohim: In the beginning God created, is the foundation of all theology. God is seen as self-sufficient and knowable only where He chooses to reveal Himself. And through the pages of the Bible He chose to reveal
Himself to us and to send His Son to buy us back.
The Heavens: This word is the Hebrew shamayim that, like Elohim, is a plural noun and can be translated either heaven or heavens, depending on the context or whether it is associated with a singular or plural verb. It does not mean the stars of heaven, which were made only on the fourth day of the Creation Week (1:16). The more common meaning today would be the word space, like when we speak of the universe in space and time. There is no other Hebrew word used in this sense in the Bible, but the use of heaven is widely used with such a concept.
The Earth: The Hebrew had no word for universe,
so Moses used the heavens and the earth instead. It is a biblical way of saying all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5; Isaiah 44:24; Jeremiah 10:16; John 1:3) since everything that exists is either on the earth or in the heavens. The Hebrew word for earth is erets and is often translated ground or land. Somewhat like the use of the word heaven, it can mean either a particular part of the earth, like the land of Canaan in 12:5, or it can be translated to mean the earth in general, as let the land produce vegetation as in 1:11. This earth would become the center of God’s program: What is man that You are mindful of Him, the son of man that You care for Him (Psalm 8)?
1:1 refutes nine different human theologies. (1)
It refutes atheism (which teaches that there is no God) because it assumes the existence of a personal God. The universe is not the result of a “Big Bang” but was created by Elohim. (2)
It refutes agnosticism (which teaches that one cannot know if there is, or is not, God) because God has revealed
Himself in what He has done. (3)
It refutes pantheism (which teaches the worship of all gods) because God is above that which He creates. (4)
It refutes polytheism(which teaches that there are many gods) because only one God created all things. (5)
It refutes materialism (which teaches that physical matter is the only reality) because there is a clear distinction between God and
His material universe. This verse clearly teaches that matter had a beginning and that Elohim created it. (6)
It refutes naturalism (which teaches that all truth comes from “mother nature”) because nature itself had a beginning and was created by God. (7)
It refutes dualism (which teaches that the world is ruled by antagonistic forces of good and evil) because God was alone when He created the world. (8)
It refutes humanism (which teaches that man is the ultimate reality) because Elohim, not man, is the ultimate reality. And (9)
it refutes evolution (which teaches that after billions of years man evolved from cells, then fish, then animals) because God is the instantaneous
Creator of all things.
The rabbis debated many things that seem absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary. Here is one example. One of those debates was why the first word of the book of Genesis doesn’t begin with the first Hebrew letter Aleph, but the second Hebrew letter Beth. They reasoned that God began with the letter Beth, because just as it is closed on three sides and open on the fourth, so Elohim enclosed the world on three sides, with the north side remaining open. Furthermore, Beth stands for the Hebrew word for blessing, while Aleph stands for the Hebrew word for cursing. God did not want to begin His Torah with a curse, so He began it with a blessing. But Aleph complained that the Torah should begin with the first letter. God then appeased Aleph by promising to begin the Ten Commandments with an Aleph. Therefore, in the first phrase: I am ADONAI your God (Exodus 20:2), the Hebrew word I begins with an Aleph. This is an example of how fanciful these comments can be.
This is not merely a stiff and formal statement about creation. Its teaching is intended to encourage us about who we are and where we come from, and its emphasis is oriented toward life rather than death, as Isaiah comments on so beautifully: Heavens above, rain down justice; let the clouds pour it down. Let the earth open, so that salvation springs up, and justice sprouts with it; I, ADONAI, have created it (Isaiah 45:8 CJB). Here the heavens and earth are now summoned to bring forth and pour down spiritual blessings in heavenly gifts, according to the will and in the power of ADONAI. When the heavens above rain down justice, salvation springs up. God created it, and it gives Him great pleasure.
1:1 is a summary statement that will unfold as the whole chapter is read. There are seven Hebrew words with exactly twenty-eight Hebrew letters (4X7).
Before you leave Genesis 1:1, you should remind yourself that God had you specifically in mind before the foundation of the world! For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His children through Jesus Christ, and He will continue to love us for all eternity in accordance with His pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5). Biblical love, agape love is not an emotion but the nature of the heart to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others (John 15:13). And to be adopted into the family of God means you are very special to Elohim. So on those days when you don’t feel very special, you need to believe by faith the reality of your worth to the Creator of the universe. You are a child of the King.