The Knowledge of God
Creation and Anthropology
Genesis 1-11, “When the Beginning Began”
Second to the issue of ultimate Being, the discussions of cosmogony1 and anthropology2 are central to any worldview comparison, especially epistemology.3 That is, one’s view of these things will form his ultimate presuppositions, called ‘axioms,’ through which that person will view and interpret reality. Having already dealt with how Scripture answers the former issue, we move on to the latter two.
Where did the universe come from?4 Has it always existed? Did it arise out of primordial chaos, and shall it return to chaos? Or perhaps it arose as the result of the coming together of the eternal principles of both chaos and order? Maybe it is an illusion? Or could it be that it had its origin and receives its existence from the Triune God of Scripture?
Secondly, where did man come from and what is his nature? Was he the accidental result of cosmic evolution, the descendent of ‘primordial goo’? Maybe he was made to be the slave of the ‘gods’? Perhaps he, like the cosmos as a whole, is but an illusion? Or was he specially created out of the dust of the earth in the image of the Triune God who made him?
For the Christian, Scripture answers these questions in the first few chapters of the book of “Beginnings” itself, Genesis.
Genesis 1-11: “When the Beginning Began”
Without getting into the debate on its authorship, it is likely that most of the Pentateuch5 was written by Moses with editorial updates being placed in the text by later prophets or scribes. However, several conservative scholars believe that some of Genesis, especially the first dozen or so chapters, were written by or taken from earlier sources, possibly the very subjects of the ancient historical narratives themselves.
Genesis was named after the first word of the first sentence of the book, bereshith, which literally means ‘beginning.’ The word ‘Genesis’ was taken from verses 2:4 and 5:1 of the Septuagint6 in which the word for ‘account’ or ‘generations’ is geneseos. Genesis is the book of the beginnings of everything.
Genesis 1:1-2:3: The Creation of the Space-Time Universe
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
And thus the Bible begins with God and nothing else coexisting with Him. Translated in a more literal fashion, the verse states, “When the beginning began…” All things, even time itself, were created out of nothing by Divine fiat. In pagan worldviews, however, the space-time universe always existed, and anything that was created was made out of pre-existing material. This is what some have termed the “Continuity of Being” concept in which everything is made from the same substance, and the difference between the Divine, man, and everything else is one of degree and not of kind. Biblical religion is the only worldview in which the ‘Continuity of Being’ is denied and the difference between the creature and the Creator is asserted.
We should note that the word used for God, here, is Elohim, plural for the word, El, meaning ‘mighty being,’ but, the verb is singular. In the Hebrew language, when a noun-verb pair is constructed in this way, the plural of the noun is meant to express intensification, also known as the ‘plural of majesty.’ God is not just a god, but THE GOD, the God of gods, the mighty Being of mighty beings.
“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:2-5)
The earth that God had created out of nothing in verse 1 was as yet uninhabitable. However, God’s purpose in creating the earth was so that it would be inhabited with living things created for His glory (Isaiah 45:18-19), and so, He starts by creating light. This light should not be confused with our sun and moon which were created on the fourth day. Instead, this light was likely the manifest glory of God’s presence (Exodus 33:18-23, Isaiah 60:19-20, Ezekiel 10:4, 43:2, Revelation 21:23, etc.; cf. Matthew 2:9).
A very important aspect of God’s creative power which is introduced here is the fact that whenever God wants to create something, He simply speaks it into existence:
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6-9)
“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created.” (Psalm 148:5)
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3)
(Isaiah 22:25, 24:3, 46:11, Jeremiah 4:28, 32:24, Lamentations 3:37-38, Ezekiel 17:24, etc.)
This Biblical doctrine is contrary to its ancient neighboring worldviews which taught that their gods had to strive and toil with already existing material in order to make anything.
“Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day.” (Genesis 1:6-13)
On the second day, God created the atmosphere (vv.6-8), and on the third, He created the habitable land mass (vv.9-10) from which He (on the same day) created vegetation (vv.11-12). We should be careful, here, not to anachronistically7 import our Linnaean classification system of kingdom, phyla, and species back into the Biblical term, “kind.” “Kind” denotes some broad form of biological classification but not that of our modern term, species.
“Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19)
On the fourth day, God created the stars of the heavens and the sun and the moon for time keeping. The text does not use the words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ probably because they were worshipped as gods along with the rest of the luminaries in pagan religions. Astral worship was especially common in the ancient near east and was the chief competitor to Biblical religion8 (2 Kings 17:16-17, 20, 23:4-79, Jeremiah 7:18, 10: 2, etc.). Baal10 was commonly either the moon or the sun, and his wife, Asherah or Astarte was the other with the rest of the stars being lesser deities.
The practice of astrology, predicting the course of future events based on the alignment of the stars, comes from the belief that the gods (i.e. the stars) were focusing their powers on earth to affect the future of human events. The energies from all the gods would interfere with each other, and from the alignment, the astrologer could predict the outcome.11
In Genesis however, God is the Creator of these heavenly bodies which are nothing more than impersonal objects created for their light-giving utility (Psalm 96:5, Isaiah 48:13). Whenever we read the constant repetition in Scripture that God created and spread out the heavens, we should understand this as part of the polemic against paganism (1 Chronicles 16:26, Isaiah 37:16, 42:5, 44:24, 51:13, Jeremiah 2:12, 10:11-12, etc.).
“Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.” (Genesis 1:20-23)
The fifth day saw the creation of the creatures of the sea including the “sea monsters,” such as the Leviathan (Job 3:8, 41:1). In ancient paganism, however, the Leviathan was made into one of the primeval deities, the sea dragon. In Babylonian religion, the “Great Dragon” was named Tiamat, the personification of the principle of chaos, and in Egypt, the same “creature” was named Rahab. The symbol of the “Great Dragon” was used as a synonym for Egypt (Psalm 74:14, 87:4, 89:10, Isaiah 30:7, 51:9, Ezekiel 32:2), and eventually came to symbolize the enemies of God’s people as a whole (Isaiah 27:1, Revelation 12-13, 16:13, 20:2).
In contrast to the use of this creature as a pagan deity, a rival to God and an enemy of God’s people, God created this creature as something “good” and for His glory. It is described as being given a home (i.e. the sea) by God as a sporting ground (Psalm 104:24-26) and is totally subject to Him who made it (Job 7:8, 41:1, Psalm 148:7, Amos 9:3).
“Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:24-25)
Here, God creates land mammals, reptiles, and insects. In pagan religions, cattle such as the bull and goat were worshipped as the gods Taurus and Aries, respectively (cf. Romans 1:22-25). Here, they are not deities but God’s creation made for His glory.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:26-30)
God using the ‘royal we,’12 creates man in His own image. The image of God in man is primarily his ability to subdue the world and rule over it. Of course, in order to do so, man has to have a cognitive intellect designed for ingenuity and the desire for such a task. The image also includes intrinsic dignity such that to curse man is to curse God Himself (James 3:9) and to murder someone is akin to attacking God (Genesis 9:6). Any unjust evil done to another man is akin to doing it to God (Exodus 20:1-17, Leviticus 11:44-45, 18:1, 19:1, 18, Matthew 5:48).13
Man, though small compared to the billions of blazing stars in the universe, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation and made to be God’s vice-regent or vassal king for the earth:
“What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:4-8)
Being God’s vassal king comes with responsibilities, though: the earth and all that is in it which man rules over is tied to him through federal headship.14
Man as crowned with glory was unheard of in the ancient world. For example, in Babylonian religion, man was created by the gods to be their slaves. Pessimism was the attitude amongst the peoples of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and all over the pagan world since they were but slaves to their king who was considered to be a god.
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
Everything that God had created was considered to be “very good” without the taint of evil or sin.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
Having finished with the work which He had purposed, God ceased from creating.15 Having ceased from His work after the sixth day, He “sanctified” or set aside the seventh day as holy to commemorate all that He had done, and this becomes the reason for the fourth commandment given to Israel (Exodus 20:8-11).
1 i.e., The theory or belief concerning the origin of the cosmos. Of course, that is only if the particular worldview being examined allows for one.
2 i.e., The theory or belief concerning mankind’s beginning and nature.
3 i.e. One’s theory of knowledge. See the introduction to “The Doctrine of God” lessons.
4 Or should we even call it a ‘uni-verse,’ since this assumes the full integration of the unity and diversity of reality into one cogent cosmic scheme?
5 i.e. The first five books of the Bible.
6 i.e. The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
7 Anachronism- a fallacy of history in which one imports people, concepts, events, etc. into a time to which they do not belong. Example: “Julius Caesar battled against the Gauls in his F-16 fighter jet” would be an anachronism since flight wasn’t invented until the twentieth century and jet propulsion still later.
8 The bull set up by Aaron (Exodus 32) and the bulls set up by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26-29) were actually idols of the god, Taurus. The goat cult that Rehoboam started was the worship of the god, Aries (2 Chronicles 11:15). In Phoenician religion, Asherah (or Astarte) was the wife of the chief god of the pantheon and was usually either the moon, the sun, or Venus. In Acts 7:43, Stephen quotes the Septuagint of Amos 5:26-27 in which Israel will be sent into exile because of their worship of Moloch, sometimes the sun, and Rephan (i.e. Saturn).
9 Interestingly, the phrase in 2 Kings 23:5 which says, “…for all the host of heaven,” actually says, “…for the twelve signs,” referring to the zodiac.
10 Sometimes called Bel in Babylonian religion or Al-Ilah in Arabic astral worship.
11 Of course, the predictions of astrology are almost never correct in their outcome (Isaiah 47:13). See Robert Morey’s Horoscopes and the Christian (Christian Scholars Press: Las Vegas, NV, 1981).
12 Ancient near-east kings often spoke in first person plural when making a regal decision in their court. Here, God speaks with great majesty in creating man, emphasizing man’s importance as the crowning achievement and pinnacle of His creation.
13 God often begins or ends His moral commandments with “for I am YHWH.” The implication is that because of who He is, we should act the same way. The reason for this is that we are made in His image.
14 See footnote 58.
15 God did not “rest” in the sense that He was tired, but rather, what He had created needed nothing else to be added to it. All was “very good” (1:31). Thus, He ceased creating.