Copyright © 1975 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
The Creation Account
in Genesis 1:1-3
Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1
spiration, conflicted diametrically with the concepts of the gods and
goddesses found in the nations all around him. Moses differed with
the pagan religions precisely in the conceptualization of the relation-
ship of God to the creation. To all other peoples of the ancient
Near East, creation was the work of gods and goddesses. The forces
of nature, personalized as gods and goddesses, were mutually inter-
related and often locked in conflict. Moreover, their myths about the
role of these gods and goddesses in creation were at the very heart of
their religious celebrations. These stories about Ninurta and Asag,
Marduk and Tiamat, Baal and Yamm, did not serve to entertain the
people, nor did they serve merely to explain how the creation orig-
inated. The adherents of these myths believed that by myth (word)
and by ritual (act) they could reenact these myths in order to sustain
the creation. Life, order, and society, depended on the faithful cele-
bration of the ritual connected with the myth. For example, concern-
ing the Enuma elish, Sarna wrote:
presented in the course of the festivities marking the Spring New
Year, the focal point of the Babylonian religious calendar. It was,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles first delivered
by the author as the Bueermann-Champion Foundation Lectures at Western
Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon, October 1-4, 1974, and
adapted from Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative
Baptist Seminary, 1974).
328 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- October 1975
buttressed its societal norms and its organizational structure.1
to these degraded notions about God. If, then, the essential differ-
ence between the Mosaic faith and the pagan faith differed pre-
cisely in their conceptualization of the relationship of God to the
creation, is it conceivable that Moses should have left the new nation
under God without an accurate account of the origin of the creation?
To this writer such a notion is incredible. Anderson touched on the
source critic's problem when he noted: "Considering the impressive
evidences of the importance of the creation-faith in pagan religion
during the second millennium B.C., it is curious that in Israel's faith
during its formative and creative period (1300-1000 B.C.), the belief
in Yahweh as Creator apparently had a second place."2 His choice
of the word curious for this tension is curious. The dilemma for the
critic is intolerable. The only satisfying solution is to grant Mosaic
authorship to the narrative of Genesis 1. Once that is clear, the
theological function of the chapter is also clear.
Moses, the founder of the new nation, intended this introductory
chapter to have both a negative and a positive function. Negatively, it
serves as a polemic against the myths of Israel's environment; posi-
tively, it teaches man about the nature of God.
Before considering the discontinuity between the pagan cosmog-
onies and Genesis 1, however, it is only fair to consider first the
points of continuity between these myths and Scripture.
THE CONTINUITY BETWEEN THE CREATION MYTHS AND GENESIS 1
The evidence of the continuity. First, there is a literary continu-
ity. It has been noted, for example, that both the Enuma elish3 and
Genesis 1:2-3 begin with circumstantial clauses followed by the main
account of the creation.4 Also in both accounts the circumstantial
1970), p. 7.
2 Bernhard W. Anderson. Creation versus Chaos (New York: Association
Press, 1967), p. 49.
3 Many other versions of Babylonian creation myths are listed by Alexander
Heidel, The Babvlonian Genesis, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1963), pp. 61-81, but the Enunia elish may be taken as representative
duction to Biblical Cosmogony," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January-March
1975) : 25-36.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 329
the "when-not-yet sentence materials from the ancient Near East and
Egypt."5 This same pattern prevails in Genesis 1:2-3; 2:4b-7; Prov-
erbs 8:24-26; and Ezekiel 16:4-5. As Hasel commented: "In these
passages as in the ancient Near Eastern materials, long series of
descriptions negate later conditions of the world through formula-
like ‘when not yet’ sentences."6 Of course, this continuity of literary
structure comes as no surprise, for Israel belonged physically to the
peoples of the ancient Near East. Her language was Canaanite and
her literary compositions, in their physical outward form, conformed
to the literary conventions of her age.
Second, there are points of similarity in their content. Both
accounts present a primeval, dark,7 watery, and formless8 state prior
to creation, and neither account attributes this state to the Creator/
creator. Also the two accounts agree about the order of the creation.
Heidel has charted these basic similarities in detail between the
chronological sequence of the creation of the cosmos in the two
Enuma elish Genesis
Divine spirit and cosmic matter Divine spirit creates cosmic
are coexistent and coeternal matter and exists
independently of it
Primeval chaos; Tiamat The earth a desolate waste,
enveloped in darkness with darkness covering
The creation of the firmament The creation of the firmament
The creation of dry land The creation of dry land
The creation of the luminaries The creation of the luminaries
The creation of man The creation of man
The gods rest and celebrate God rests and sanctifies the
5 C. Westernann, Genesis, in Biblische Konrmetar zunt Alten Testamentuni
(Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1967), pp. 60 ff., 87 ff., 131.
6 Gerhard F. Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look,"
The Bible Translator 22 (October 1971) : 164-65.
7 Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, p. 101.
8 Ibid., p. 97.
9 Ibid., p. 129.
330 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
dences be explained? One answer is that Israel's neighbors borrowed
from her. But this is improbable for it is almost certain that many
of these ancient Near Eastern myths antedate Moses.10
Another explanation is that the similarities are purely coinci-
dental. D. F. Payne noted that Ryle, Gerhard von Rad, and Kinnier
Wilson hold this view, and then concluded, "It must probably re-
main an open question whether . . . the correspondence [is]
The most common explanation of those scholars who regard the
world as a closed system without divine intervention is that Israel
borrowed these mythologies, demythologized them, purged them of
their gross and base polytheism, and gradually adopted them to their
own developing and higher theology. Zimmern went so far as to
state that the early appearance of the watery chaos in Genesis 1 "is
unintelligible in the mouth of an early Israelite," for he supposed that
the concept of a watery chaos was derived from the annual flooding
of the Mesopotamian river.12 Of course, his argument is no longer
tenable because, as Wakeman has demonstrated,13 the concept of
primeval water is found across a broad spectrum of ancient myths
and not confined to any one geographical area.
It is certain that Israel knew these myths and it is also possible
that having borrowed them they demythologized them.14 Moreover,
the biblical writers elsewhere tell us that they did use sources.15 In
spite of these facts, this explanation does not satisfy because it offers
no explanation for Israel's higher theology. Where did Israel get this
higher theology? Why did it not appear among any other people?
Neither the brilliant Greek philosophers of later ages, nor Israel's
Babylonian and Egyptian contemporaries, so far ahead of them in
the arts and science, attained to it. All the world was steeped in
mythical thought except Israel. Her religion was like the sun com-
pared to the night. No umbilical cord attached the faith of Moses
and his successors with the other religions of the ancient Near East.
10 Ibid., pp. 130-32.
11 D. F. Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered (London: Tyndale Press, 1964),
12 Encyclopedia Biblica, s.v. "Creation," by Heinrich Zimmern, col. 940.
14 In this connection also see R. N. Whybray, The Heavenly Counsellor
15 Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, p. 135.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 331
such as Mohammedanism, borrowed it from Israel.
Moreover, this religion did not arise from Israel itself. Over
and over again they confess that they are stiffnecked and prone to
conform to the religions around them. No, Israel's religion did not
originate in the darkened mind and heart of man. Instead, as the
prophets consistently affirm, it is a revelation from God. This is the
only answer that satisfies both the mind and spirit of man. If, then,
the theological content is by divine revelation, does it not follow that
the historical details may also have come by divine revelation?
Genesis 1 is unlike the sources, of pagan religions in that it con-
tains information unknowable to any man. Certainly ancient chron-
iclers could record events of their days and the inspired prophet-
historians could use them for theological reasons. But what human
author could know the historical details of the creation? It is con-
cluded, therefore, that the explanation that Israel borrowed the
material is wrong.
The only satisfying answer is that proposed by Ira M. Price of
the University of Chicago. He suggested that these versions sprang
from a common source of some kind. He attributed the common ele-
ments to a common inheritance of man going back to "a time when
the human race occupied a common home and held a common
faith."16 Although not citing Price, Unger holds the same view:
Early races of men wherever they wandered took with them
these earliest traditions of mankind, and in varying latitudes and
climes have modified them according to their religions and mode
of thought. Modifications as time proceeded resulted in the cor-
ruption of the original pure tradition. The Genesis account is not
only the purist, but everywhere bears the unmistakable impress of
divine inspiration when compared with the extravagances and
corruptions of other accounts. The Biblical narrative, we may
conclude, represents the original form these traditions must have
know of the creation from the beginning itself. He asked: "Do you
not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations
of the earth?" (Isa. 40:24).
16 Ira M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament (Philadelphia:
Judson Press, 1925), pp. 129-30.
17 Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), p. 37.
332 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
THE DISCONTINUITY BETWEEN THE CREATION MYTHS AND GENESIS 1
content, the biblical account radically differs from the creation myths
of the ancient Near East in its theological stance.
For one thing, the creation myths are stories about numerous
gods and goddesses personifying cosmic spaces or forces in nature.
They are nature deities. The pagan mind did not distinguish spirit
from matter. For them all of nature consisted of personalities com-
bining divine spirit and cosmic matter in an eternal coexistence. Thus
the sun was a god and the moon was a god. Even Akhenaten, the
so-called first monotheist, never conceived of Aten, the sun god, any
differently. He distinguished himself by selecting only one force of
nature and, of course, never could find a following. Did not the other
forces of nature also need to be worshiped?
In Canaan at the time of the Conquest, each city had its own
temple dedicated to some force of nature. The name Jericho derives
from the Hebrew word, Hry, which means "moon"; Jericho's inhabi-
tants worshiped the moon, the god "Yerach." Likewise, on the
other side of the central ridge of Palestine is the city of Beth-shemesh,
which means "Temple of the Sun"; Shamash, the sun god, was wor-
shiped there. It is against this environment that one can appreciate
the significance of the stories about the Conquest. Yahweh, the God
of Israel, did not consist of the forces of nature but stood majestically
transcendent above them. He fought for Israel. He compelled these
high gods of Canaan to hide their faces at noonday. Concerning the
account in Joshua 9, Wilson wrote:
At the prayer of Israel's leader, both of their chief deities, the
sun and the moon, were darkened, or eclipsed. So, as we can
well imagine would be the case, they were terrified beyond
measure, thinking that the end of all things had come; and they
were discomfited and smitten and turned and fled.18
The second element of the darkened pagan view of the universe
is summarized in the catchwords "myth" and "ritual." The "creation
myth," so widespread in the ancient Near East, did not serve pri-
marily to satisfy man's intellectual curiosity about the origin of the
world. Man was not concerned about history as such. He was rather
concerned about continuing the stability of the natural world and the
society to which he belonged. How could he guarantee that the
orderly life achieved in the beginning by the triumph of the creative
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 333
ing to break down the structures of his life. His solution to the
dilemma was by means of myth and ritual. By the use of magical
words (myth) accompanying the performance of certain all-impor-
tant religious festivals (ritual) he thought he could guarantee the
stability of life. The myth, spoken magically at the high religious
festivals, served as the libretto of the community liturgy. It declared
in word what the ritual was designed to ensure through action. Sarna
summarized the role of myth and ritual thus:
enacted in public festivals to the accompaniment of ritual. The
whole complex constituted imitative magic, the effect of which was
believed to be beneficial to the entire community. Through ritual
drama, the primordial events recorded in the myth were reactivated.
The enactment at the appropriate season of the creative deeds of
the gods, and the recitation of the proper verbal formulae, it was
believed, would effect the periodic renewal and revitalization of
nature and so assure the prosperity of the community.19
Against this background, the polemical function of the first
chapter of Genesis is evident. Not that the tone is polemical; pre-
cisely the opposite. As Cassuto noted, "The language is tranquil,
undisturbed by polemic or dispute; the controversial note is heard
indirectly, as it were, through the deliberate, quiet utterances of
Scripture."20 By a simple straightforward account of the way it
happened, the biblical account corrects the disturbed pagan notions.
Here there is no theogony. No one begot God; God created all.
Stuhmueller commented: "Alone among all Semitic creative gods,
Yahweh underwent no birth, no metamorphosis."21 Moreover, here
there is no theomachy. The Spirit of God does not contend with a
living hostile chaotic force, but hovers over the primordial mass
awaiting the appropriate time for history to begin. How can the chaos
be hostile when it is not living but inanimate? It can only be shaped
according to the will of the Creator. The sun, moon, and stars, wor-
shiped by the pagans, are reduced to the status of "lamps" (Gen.
1:16) . The dreaded MnynT ("dragons") are created (xrb ) by
God, who calls them good (v. 21). McKenzie put it this way:
20 Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, trans. Israel
Abrahams, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 1:7.
21 Carroll Stuhmueller, "The Theology of Creation in Second Isaias,"
334 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
Against this background, the Hebrew account of origins can
scarcely be anything else but a counterstatement to the myth of
creation .... The Hebrew author enumerates all the natural forces
in which deity was thought to reside, and of all of them he says
simply that God made them. Consequently, he eliminates all
elements of struggle on the cosmic level; the visible universe is
not an uneasy balance of forces, but it is moderated by one supreme
will, which imposes itself with effortless supremacy upon all that
it has made. By preference the author speaks of the created work
rather than of the creative act, because he wishes to emphasize the
fact that the creative Deity, unlike Marduk, has not had to win
his supremacy by combat with an equal.22
Creator works calmly as a craftsman in his shop. There is no more
danger that He will fall before the monster of chaos than there is
that the chair will devour the carpenter.23
As von Rad said, Genesis 1 is not a demythologized narrative
but a distinctly antimythical narrative.24 Thus the creation was "dis-
enchanted," to use the language of the sociologist of religion, Max
Weber. By speaking the truth in a world of lies, God emancipated
man from the fear of creation to the freedom to research it and bring
it under his dominion. Here, then, was the sound philosophical foun-
dation on which true science could progress. Man could now stand at
a distance from matter as an observer, calm and unafraid.
Genesis 1 points to several activities of God and also reveals
several attributes of God. His activities as the Creator, Savior, and
Ruler are discussed in the following paragraphs and His attributes
will be discussed in the next article in this series.
GOD AS THE CREATOR
Foundational to an understanding of God is the truth that He is
the Creator above and apart from His creation. The faith that God
was the Creator of heaven and earth and not coexistent and coeternal
with the creation distinguished Israel's faith from all other religions.
Here was the basis for fellowship between Abraham and Mel-
chizedek. Although much about Melchizedek is not explained, one
thing is certain: he worshiped the Creator of heaven and earth.
When Melchizedek, king of Salem, met Abraham after his return
22 John L. McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword (New York: Image Books,
1966), p. 101.
23 Ibid., p. 102.
24 Gerhard von Rad, cited by Payne, Genesis One Reconsidered, p. 22.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 335
"Blessed be Abram of El Elyon (the Most High God), Creator of
heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:15). Abraham immediately recognized
this king-priest who worshiped the Creator rather than the creation
as his king-priest, and Abraham gave him a tenth of all. Indeed they
worshiped the same God, but instead of calling God merely by the
epithet El Elyon, Abraham added God's personal name and replied,
"I have sworn to Yahweh, El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth"
(Gen. 14:22). By adding the personal name Yahweh, he revealed
that the Most High Creator was also the God of history, law, and
ethics, the God who would establish His kingdom on earth through
The word for "create" used by Melchizedek in Genesis 14:19,
22 is different from the word used in Genesis 1:1. The verb trans-
lated "create" in Genesis 14 is used only four other times in the Old
Testament in the sense "to create," but it seems to have been more
frequent in the Canaanite world. It was used at Ugarit and was found
in the Phoenician inscription of Karatepe. Possibly because of his
Canaanite background Melchizedek used this more unusual word.25
At this point it may be well to digress and discuss the words for
"create" in the Old Testament. Many words, in fact, are used to
designate the creative activity of God. In addition to xrb found in
Genesis 1:1, there are rcy, "to form"; hWf , "to make"; dsy, "to
found"; dly , "to beget"; and others. All these, with the exception of
xrb, are metaphorical for they are also used of man's creative activ-
ity. xrb, however, distinguishes itself from these other words by being
used exclusively with God as the subject. Moreover, as Julian Mor-
genstern pointed out, it "never takes the accusative of the material
from which a thing is made, as do other verbs of making, but uses
the accusative to designate only the thing made."26 Since it is used
exclusively of God and never takes the accusative of the material,
some have suggested that the word must mean "to create out of
nothing." Evidently assuming that the word meant "to create out of
nothing," in contrast to the other words for making, Scofield popu-
larized the view that there were only three creative acts of God:
25 P. Hanhert, "Qavah in Hebreu Biblique," in Festschrift Alfred Bertholet,
eds. Walter Baumgartner et al (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1950), pp. 258 ff.
26 Julian Morgenstern, "The Sources of the Creation Story - Genesis
1 : 1-2:4," American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 36 (1920)
336 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
man life, vss. 26-27."27
But this distinction cannot be maintained for at least four
reasons: (1) usage shows that xrb does not necessarily mean "to
create out of nothing"; (2) it is used synonymously with other words
for "making"; (3) other words for "making" may imply that the
thing made did not originate out of preexisting material; and (4) the
ancient versions did not see this meaning in the word.
Two passages illustrate that xrb was used to mean something
other than creatio ex nihilo. In Genesis 1:27, God "created" (xrb)
the man, but in Genesis 2:7 God "formed" (rcy) the man from
the earth. Moreover, xrb is used with a double accusative to define
the production of a new mental state; for example, in Isaiah 65:18,
the Lord declares, "for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing,
and her people for gladness." Gruenthaner observed: "Evidently,
Jerusalem and the people are represented as being prior to the state
into which they are converted."28 xrb in Genesis 1:1 does not
include the bringing into existence of the negative state described in
verse 2. Rather, it means that God utilized it as a part of His creation.
In this sense He created it.
That xrb is used synonymously with the more colorless word
hWf seems evident from the following comparisons.
Comparison of xrb and hWf
Gen. 1:21 God created the sea monsters -- xrb
1:25 God made the beasts -- hWf
1:26 God said, "Let us make man" -- hWf
1:27 And God created man -- xrb
2:4a When the heavens and the earth were created --xrb
When the Lord God made earth and heaven --hWf
1:1 God created the heavens and the earth -- xrb
Exod. 19:11 God made the heavens and the earth -- hWf
Gen. 1:16 God made the two great lights . . . and stars
Ps. 148:3, 5 Praise Him, sun, moon, . . . stars
Isa. 40:26 Who created these [sun, moon, stars] -- xrb
1909), p. 3.
28 Michael J. Gruenthaner, "The Scriptural Doctrine in First Creation,"
Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 (1947) : 50.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 337
Isaiah 40-66 and found that xrb, hWf, and rcy are all used
Moreover, it is clear that hWf and the other verbs may desig-
nate creation by fiat ex nihilo. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does
not depend on the verb xrb. Light was created when God spoke the
words, "Let there be light" (v. 3) ; there is not the slightest hint that
it sprang from chaos. Similarly, the firmament, which is called
"heaven" and which is conceived as a vault separating the lower
from the upper water, owes its existence exclusively to a divine com-
mand. The sun, moon, and stars came into existence at the sole
bidding of their Creator. Several different words are used for God's
God made (hWf) the firmament, heavenly bodies, sea animals
and birds, land animals and man.
God separated (ldb) light and darkness, the waters above and
firmament below, the water and dry land.
God placed (Ntn) the heavenly bodies above the uninhabited
world, and man to rule over the inhabited world.
God created (xrb ) sea creatures, birds, man.
The way the verb xrb is variously rendered in the Septuagint
shows that the translators did not know the popularly alleged
God is not the Creator of just three aspects of the universe. He
is the Creator of the entire universe. The verb xrb serves to call
attention to His marvelous acts. Here is something that no man or
other god could accomplish.
This belief in God as Creator was the essential feature of the
Mosaic faith. God considered this aspect of Israel's faith so funda-
mental and important that when He chose a badge, a sign, a symbol
for His theocratic nation to wear, He chose one that displayed Him
as the Creator of the heaven and earth. In the fourth of the Ten
Commandments God mandated that the people work six days and
rest the seventh. He added that they were to do this because He had
worked six days and rested on the seventh day.
This was the outward mark, the sign, symbolizing visibly that
Israel was in covenant, in league, with God. According to Exo-
dus 31:13, 17 the observance of the Sabbath was a sign between
Israel and God. Just as the rainbow symbolized the Noahic Covenant,
and circumcision symbolized the Abrahamic Covenant, and the cup
338 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
symbolized the Old Covenant.
By this ritual, Israel mirrored the Creator on earth and bore
witness among the pagan nations that they were in covenant with
the transcendent Creator. Here, indeed, was the essential difference
in the two faiths. The pagans manipulated their nature deities by
their magical words and mimetic ritual of the creation myth. But
Israel showed by the mimetic ritual of working six days and resting
the seventh day that they were under the Word, the Law, of the
Creator, the One who brought the universe into existence by His
command. This was the Creator's pattern in the beginning. Genesis 1,
then, served as the libretto for Israel's life.
But what about the uncreated or unformed state, the darkness
and the deep of Genesis 1:2? Here a great mystery is encountered,
for the Bible never says that God brought these into existence by His
word. What, then, can be said about them?
First, it can be said that the Book of Genesis does not inform
us concerning the origin of that which is contrary to the nature of
God, neither in the cosmos nor in the world of the spirit. Where did
the opposite of Him that is good. and bright originate? Suddenly,
without explanation, in Genesis 3 an utterly evil, brilliant, intelligent
personality appears in the Garden of Eden masquerading as a ser-
pent. The principle of origins, so strong in our minds, demands an
explanation. But the truth is that the Book mocks us. The Bible pro-
vides no information regarding that which is dark and devoid of
form. Here are some of the secret things that belong to God.
Second, the situation described in verse 2 was not outside the
control of God, for the circumstantial clause adds, "and the Spirit
of God moved upon the face of the waters." The verb JHr trans-
lated "moved upon" occurs elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 32:11 of
a rwn , either an eagle or a vulture, fluttering over her young in her
nest as she cares for them. Although some would translate
Myhlx HUr here by the words "mighty wind,"30 this is unlikely
because everywhere else in this text Myhlx designates God, and the
verb JHr implies intelligent concern. Here is no restrainer as in the
ancient Near Eastern myth, hindering the Creator, but here is the
creative, life-giving Spirit of God waiting the proper moment to begin
history by the creation of heaven and earth through the Word.
Though not called "good" at first, the darkness and deep were called
30 E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday
& Co., 1964), p. 5.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 339
"good" later when they became part of the cosmos. It is all part of
God's plan. According to His own sovereign purposes, however, in
due time He has said that He will eliminate the darkness and deep
from His organized universe altogether.
The biblicist faces a dilemma when considering the origin of
those things which are contrary to God. A good God characterized
by light could not, in consistency with His nature, create evil, dis-
order, and darkness. On the other hand, it cannot be eternally out-
side of Him for that would limit His sovereignty.31 The Bible resolves
the problem not by explaining its origin but by assuring man that it
was under the dominion of the Spirit of God.
The narrative of Genesis one served as the libretto for all of
Israel's life. Reflection on this libretto for life not only reminded
Israel that her God who called her to be His instrument for the salva-
tion of the world was the Creator transcendent above and not
immanent in the creation, but also that this same God was Himself
a triumphant Savior.
In this series it has been pointed out that the chaos spoken of
in Genesis 1:2 was not some living force or principle that could
oppose God. But it has also been stated that a hostile dragon symbol-
ized that state of darkness and sea at the time of creation. How can
these two viewpoints be reconciled, or are they contradictory, as
McKenzie maintained?32 It seems that both viewpoints are true: on
the one hand, the deep and darkness had no life, but on the other
hand, they represented a state of existence contrary to the character
of God. According to Ramm, verse 2 represents the creation as a
block of marble waiting the sculptor's creative touch,33 and accord-
ing to Cassuto, it is like the raw clay on a potter's wheel waiting to
be fashioned.34 To many theologians the state of verse 2 should be
evaluated as "good." But this evaluation is inconsistent with the
biblical viewpoint. The poets of Israel likened it to a monster. The
remains of that state are still seen in the surging seas threatening life.
The situation of verse 2 is not called good. Moreover, that state of
darkness, confusion, and lifelessness is contrary to the nature of God
31 See Karl Barth, Die Kirkliche Dogmatik (Zurich, 1945), 3:111-21.
32 McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword, pp. 102-3.
33 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Gland
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 203.
34 Cassuto, The Book of Genesis, 1:23.
340 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October 1975
the God of order.
As Israel reflected on this account of creation, then, it may be
concluded that she was reminded that her God was a triumphant
Savior, who overcame all that was contrary to His character. To
Moses and his followers this fact brought assurance that the victory
belonged to God.
But how different was Israel's battle to that of her pagan
neighbors. Whereas her neighbors were involved in the battle of
overcoming the hostile forces of nature, the gods of inertia, Israel
was involved in the political-spiritual battle of overcoming a world
hostile and in rebellion to the righteous character of God. The
restrainer for Israel was not some cosmic dragon, but the Pharaoh,
and the kings of the earth, who agitated like a surging sea against
the rule of God. As Marduk overcame Tiamat, so Yahweh overcame
Rahab, the Pharaoh, and so Yahweh would overcome His enemies
including even Satan himself.
In fact, in contrast to the pagan celebrations reenacting an an-
nual victory over the hostile forces of nature, all of Israel's celebra-
tions commemorated God's victories in history in His ongoing pro-
gram of establishing His righteous rule on earth. At the Passover
ritual Israel celebrated the deliverance from the oppressive Pharaoh;
at the Feast of Firstfruits she celebrated the victory of taking the
land from the resisting Canaanites; and at the Feast of Tabernacles
Israel anticipated the ultimate establishment of God's universal rule
over the world which He had created in the first place.35
GOD AS THE RULER
In the "creation myths" of the pagans, the god responsible for
the creation emerged as the ruler after his victory. So also God's
story about creation revealed that He is the supreme ruler, sover-
eignly exercising His lordship in and over all the creation.
The narrative of Genesis 1 includes several indications of God's
absolute lordship. The essence of the creative process is the will of
God expressed through His word. A basic pattern runs through each
creative act. Westermann analyzed that common pattern as follows:36
35 Terry Hulbert, "Eschatological Significance of Israel's Annual Feasts"
(Th.D. disc., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965), p. 95.
36 Claus Westermann, The Genesis Accounts of Creation (Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1964), p. 7.
The Theology of Genesis 1 / 341
Announcement: And God said .. .
Command: "let there be .. let it be gathered .
let it bring forth ..."
Report: And it was so
Evaluation: And God saw that it was good.
Temporal framework: And there was evening, and there
was morning, the ... day.
of the creative process was the command of God. Westermann
observed: "These five elements are but parts of one coherent whole:
a command. The whole creation came into existence because God
willed it, God commanded it."37 Von Rad observed: "The world and
its fulness do not find their unity and inner coherence in a cosmo-
logical first principle, such as the Ionian natural philosophers tried
to discover but in the completely personal will of Yahweh their
Moreover, to show His sovereign dominion over His creation,
God gave names to the light, to the darkness, to the firmament, to
the dry land, and to the gathered waters. He called them Day, Night,
Heavens, Earth, and Sea, respectively. To understand the significance
of this act of naming the parts of the creation it must be realized
that in the Semitic world the naming of something or someone was
the token of lordship. Reuben, for example, changed the names of
the cities of the Amorites after he had conquered them (Num.
32:38). Likewise, Pharaoh Necho changed Eliakim's name to
Jehoiakim after he had defeated the Judean king (2 Kings 23:34).
Is it not significant that God gave names precisely to those features
that belonged to the precreated situation? In so doing He showed that
He was Lord of all.
He left it to man to decide the names of the birds and of the
domesticated and wild animals. He did not name these because He
had delegated His authority to man to have dominion over the earth.
Thus by naming the creatures of the earth man brought them under
his dominion. Significantly, before God gave Adam His most precious
gift, the woman, God had man first show his ability to rule by naming
the other creatures. But, then, in one of the most instructive insights
into the mind of man before the fall, Adam named her after himself
(Gen. 2:23). He was wyx; she would be hwyx, the feminine form
of wyx. In this way Adam was saying, "She is my equal." He was
38 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 vols. (New York: Harper
& Row, 1962), 1:141.
342 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- October 1975
of leadership and love in the first husband.
God, who is Ruler of all, then delegated His authority to others.
To the sun and the moon He gave the rule over the day and the
night (Gen. 1:16), but to man He gave the rule over the earth
(1:26). Does man want to know what it means to rule the earth?
Then let him look to the sun and the moon as his example in the
heavens. There he can see excellence, beauty, faithfulness and
dependability, as these creatures fulfill and actualize their Creator's
narrative must have been to Israel, called on to bring the earth under
His righteous rule. As they reflected on God's creative acts, they
were reminded that they were called on to rule under and with the
Ruler par excellence (Deut. 20:10-18). If they would be obedient
to His word, they too would create a society in which righteousness
and peace would kiss each other.
And what an encouragement that they would ultimately suc-
ceed! The Creator did not leave His job half finished. He perfected
the creation, and then He established it. He did not end up with
chaos, as Isaiah noted (Isa. 45:18). Neither would He forget His
people. The program He began with He would consummate in tri-
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Dallas Theological Seminary
3909 Swiss Ave.
Dallas, TX 75204