In The Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

When thinking about creation, Christians often turn to geologists and astronomers and even high school science teachers as they seek understanding. And though there is much to learn, there is much that leads astray. But for all the claims about the authority of Scripture, who ever begins there? Instead of beginning with science, read first about Scripture. Read commentaries.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”

“…And God said, ‘Let there be light’…”

How much time elapsed in the age of the earth between the creation of the universe in verse 1 and “Let there be light” in verse 3? We have no clue in Scripture. [But many Christians, unfamiliar with this Scripture, seem to assume that  “the beginning” equals “let there be light.”]

The Text

Gen 1:1 is not a preface, it is an absolute statement (G. Ch. Aalders: “this is the rendition that is found in every ancient translation, without exception”); “heavens and earth” is a merism, a figure of speech that signifies the whole, i.e. “the universe.”

Verse 2 tells us about the state of the earth following God’s act of creation in verse 1. Calvin, long before the evolution debate, wrote, “before God had perfected the world it was an undigested mass…this mass, however confused it might be, was rendered stable, for the time, by the secret efficacy of the Spirit.” [Whatever the cosmology of Calvin's day, he saw an earth in verse two that would need further work in verses 3 and following, thus an elapse of unknown time. You can read Calvin’s  commentaries, free, online.]

NICOT: “Verse 2 then, describes the situation prior to the detailed creation that is spelled out in vv 3ff” [underline mine]. How much time elapsed before verse 3, “Let there be light?,” Scripture is silent.

Time

But time compression, in describing events, occurs regularly in Scripture. In Genesis 4, we leap from the conception of Cain in verse one, to the birth of Abel in verse two, and with Abel now being a shepherd in that same verse.

Anyone who reads the Old Testament will see these leaps of time again and again.

The Earth

Three conditions of the earth are described in v.2, the last being ‘darkness’ for which God provides the remedy in v. 3, “Let there be light…”

And in the following verses he provides the remedies for the other two conditions.

There is a wonderful symmetry here: Days one to three have been called, “Days of Preparation” and the last three, “Days of Filling” or from the general to the particular . e.g. day one has ‘light’ ; day four has lights (sun/moon/stars) set in order. Day two has sky and day five has birds of the sky, etc.

In these verses “heaven” and “earth” are used in a limited sense. “The dry land he called earth” [not the planet]. The heavens, here, as the NIV translates it, is our “sky.”

Days

Day One and the days that follow are the week in which God sets his creation in order for the creation of man.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” Exodus 20:11.

This verse is often wrongly used. [See, here] Here, speaking of that week, “the LORD made” not created as in Gen. 1:1. “Made” has can have the same connotation as our “making” our bed. We set in order what is already there. [In this case, the remedy for the messy conditions described in verse 2.]

Thus, this verse [Exodus 20:11] is parallel with what we read of the “days” of the week as described: …heavens, earth, sea, and all that is in them [the exact things named in the days of the week], NOT with the universe, the “heavens and earth,” of Genesis 1:1 [It does not reflect on the creation of the universe but on preparing “earth” for man; setting in order the earth that is dark and empty].

A completely unnecessary conflict among some Christians concerns the notion of a Scriptural age of the earth. The ability of devout Christians to fool themselves about their own knowledge is seen in the 17th Century scholars, Bishop Usher and John Lightfoot of Cambridge. The presumptions and false premises of devout and diligent Christians led to setting a date for the creation of the universe. Lightfoot’s first assessment was September 17, 3928 B.C. [What was happening on September 16th?!] Of course, as the first two verses of Genesis show, genealogies [which have their own problems of understanding] do not have anything to do with the age of the earth.

John Calvin, in the 16th Century, made many wise comments on Genesis: “He who would learn astronomy…let him go elsewhere….”

 ”Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”

On the relationship of natural and special revelation see R.C. Sproul 5 min video and Augustine, Commentary on Genesis

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23 comments on “In The Beginning

  1. [...] In the Beginning (textsincontext.wordpress.com) [...]

  2. Thank you. That was useful.

  3. These comments are similar to what I posted on my site, but I thought I’d post them here as well.

    You make the point that we need to start at the beginning of Scripture if we seek to understand creation, and I absolutely agree. But I respectfully disagree that the idea of a young universe is a distorted interpretation.

    You ask, “How much time elapsed in the age of the earth between the creation of the universe in verse 1 and ‘Let there be light’ in verse 3”, and then state that “We have no clue in Scripture”. You seem certain that the idea of a universe less than 10,000 years old is a distorted interpretation. But how can you make that claim if we have “no clue”? And how can you be so certain that I’m wrong? If you’re right that we have no clue, then you’d have to admit that it’s possible that young earth creationists could be correct in their interpretation- even if by accident. If we don’t have a clue then you can’t really take a stance or suggest that creationists are wrong and distorting Scripture. If we have no clue, then I’d think you’d be more willing to discuss other possibilities.

    I also don’t agree with the premise of your question. I see verse 1 as a standalone verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” As you point out, this is a statement; and it encompasses all of creation- from Day one through Day six. It’s an overview or long shot of the entire creation process. Verse three takes a closer look at the creation week and actually describes each of the six days of creation. Finally I’d suggest that Chapter 2, verse 4 begins with an even closer look at creation from a different angle and specifically addresses man’s role.

    Genesis 1:2 tells us what the earth was like when God began to create. I can understand why it’s easy to think that an unknown period of time may have passed from verse one to verse three, but if we look elsewhere in Scripture (let Scripture interpret Scripture) then we see that there was not a long period of time. Exodus 20:11 clearly tells us that God made the heavens and the earth in six days. It’s not ambiguous, but is a statement. Therefore, if God created the heavens and the earth in six days, then there’s little room for a long, unknown period of time to be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3. And it also means that we do have a clue how much time elapsed. I don’t think Scripture is silent on the age of the universe at all. I think it’s quite clear that not more than a day elapsed before verse 3.

    I understand that you think Exodus 20:11 is wrongly used, but I disagree. I think you can only suggest that if you’re trying to reach a particular conclusion (such as rejecting young earth creationism). Exodus 20:11 isn’t ambiguous.

    According to Weston W. Fields in his book Unformed and Unfilled, the Hebrew words BaRa (create) and aSaH (made) may be used interchangeably. In fact Genesis 2:4 uses both words: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Exodus 20:11 then confirms that this happened in six days.

    In your section about “The Earth” it sounds a lot like what I’ve read from C. John Collins, who I’ve critiqued already. There’s certainly symmetry, but that doesn’t negate a literal 24 hour day.

    Before I became a young earth creationist I would have agreed with you on virtually every point you made, but it was the rest of Scripture that convicted me and led me to believe in a young earth, and now I’m able to see how easily Scripture and science supports a young creation. I wasn’t able to do that before. I’m a Calvinist, but I certainly don’t hold to all of Calvin’s teachings concerning creation.

    Here’s a link to an article about Weston W. Fields discussing Exodus 20:11. Thanks,
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/cm/v3/n3/gap-theory-b

    • Michael Snow says:

      The text of Genesis is clear on the ‘Days” as each one begins “And God said…” the first being in verse 3. As you can read from noted conservative, evangelical OT scholars such as Gleason Archer who was a master of the biblical languages, verses 1 and 2 precede ‘day one.’ Also, see G. Charles Aalders’ commentary for a clear discussion of verse one in relation to the rest of the text. You are making a modern, liberal interpretation.

      • Michael, my apologies for the length of my original post. I guess I still have to learn the art of brevity.

        I disagree that I’m making a modern, liberal translation. Just the opposite in fact. There are many Biblical scholars with different interpretations, so it’s easy to find one we personally agree with. But the traditional interpretation has always supported a young universe. I think you’re doing exactly what you admonish others not to do. I think the interpretation you’re choosing is based on the conclusion you desire- and that is an ancient universe. That’s not allowing the Biblical text to speak on its own, but is imposing modern, outside influences on it (secular science). I’d suggest that what you’re advocating is a modern, liberal interpretation. The traditional interpretation I’m using isn’t concerned about conforming to a secular cosmology; it’s about letting Scripture interpret Scripture based on the context and original intent of the author as inspired by God.

        Yes, I understood what you were referring to when you said “We have no clue in Scripture.” I find that interesting, especially when you attempt to use Scripture to tell us that Scripture is silent on the age of the universe. If you use Scripture to conclude that Scripture is silent on the age of the universe, then you’ve just falsified your own argument.

        I’m not dogmatic about how to interpret the Genesis account, as long as it conforms to God’s revelation that he made the heavens and earth in six days. I think there are several valid interpretations that support a six-day creation and accepted by Biblical scholars.

        Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re imposing the belief that Scripture is silent because you want to insert billions of years into the equation, even if such a notion were refuted by Scripture. You need to find a way to fit billions of years into Scripture so that you can maintain the secular cosmology you believe in. You believe in an ancient universe- not because Scripture compels us to do so- but because you’ve elevated a certain brand of science as the authority on which Scripture should be interpreted, and because you’re trying to find scripture that supports what you already believe about the age of the universe. Nothing in Scripture allows for billions of years, unless our belief in a secular cosmology compels us to do so.

        Do you believe that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and if so, is it because Scripture, in your opinion, is silent and leaves open that possibility, or is it because you’re convinced that the scientific evidence proves that the universe is that old? Is it even conceivably possible that God really did create the heavens and the earth in six days as Scripture says? And what if scientific evidence existed that pointed to an earth less than 10,000 years old, would you still insist that Scripture was silent? If there was no scientific evidence supporting a universe that’s 13.7 billion years old, would you accept the possibility that the heavens and the earth were created in six days? Did you already have your mind made up as to the age of the universe when you found commentaries that supporting your beliefs?

        I think the one thing we both agree on is that the gap theory isn’t an option.

  4. altruistico says:

    You refer in your post there is no time lines associated with creation. There is in each presentation attributable to creation a time span of “a day.”

  5. Michael, you and I would not be in agreement about very many things, but denying you the right to post your URL on “altruistico’s” site was in extremely poor taste – fortunately, although he CAN keep your URL off his site, once you’ve posted it, it still goes out in emails to all those who have requested to be informed of new posts. Who was it, who said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”?

  6. Michael Snow says:

    Thank you, archaeopteryx1.
    My apologies, but I usually do not approve long comments as I have not the time to respond at length. I inadvertently approved Jonathan’s to which archaeopteryx1 responded with the JEDP hypothesis of the waning Wellhausen school.
    Jonathan, I will just note that when I said we have “no clue” about the age of the earth, I was speaking with reference to Scripture. Science gives us many clues and Calvin’s comment hits the mark.
    As I stated, I do not believe in the gap theory. And Exodus 20:11, in context, has no bearing on the age of the earth. Try to re-read what I wrote on that with attention to the details.
    Blessings to you both.

  7. Michael Snow says:

    Another apology, Jonathan. I see that in condensing this article I did not include the sentence dismissing the gap theory. Anyone who knows that imaginative scenario will not find a trace of it in this article nor in Genesis 1.

  8. mandy says:

    Hello. I am confused. This seems to make sense, and makes mes want to do mu own word study on make vs create.(in Hebrew.) My confusion is that you said you don’t believe in gap theory. I didn’t know for sure what that is, so I looked it up. Please explain… it sounds like gap theory. Thanks, and I really enjoyed the article.

    • Michael Snow says:

      The gap theory is a speculative view (which has no true support in Scripture) which posits that after God created a perfect world, then Satan fell and as a result of that ‘war’ and God’s judgement, we then see the result of that in the description of the earth in verse 2. So, we have creation (verse 1), and what is, in the gap theory, called “Ruin [verse 2] and Reconstruction of Creation” [verses 3 and following].

      The text of Genesis knows nothing of such a fantasy. Verse 1 is creation of “the heavens and the earth” i.e. the universe. Verse 2 describes the state of the earth following that creation event. In verse 3, we have ‘Day One’ of the week in which God puts in order the earth that we are told about in verse 2, beginning with the ‘light’ for the ‘darkness.’ and so on.
      Mandy, does that help clarify the difference?

      • mandy says:

        Yes, thanks. The first descriptions I found only talked of a gap in time, not what was proposed to have taken place. I had to dig a little deeper to find what the ruin and reconstruction meant. I asked prematurely. Thanks for the reply… I left another question, if you like.

  9. mandy says:

    Ah… I found more detailed descriptions. I SEE the difference now! So, I can see the dating of the earth, rock, etc. But how does this theory figure into the dating of fossils? Thx again…

  10. frederick johnsen says:

    Reblogged this on Revving It Up and commented:
    In light of the Nye/Ham debate and my recent post here is something to look at and think about.

  11. Michael Snow says:

    Re: Jonathan’s reply, yes, Scripture is silent but God’s revelation in nature is not. See RC Sproul on Creationism and the Age of the Universe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIwHT_b72Bk
    And Exodus 20:11 has nothing to do with it as was explained in the article above.

  12. Michael Snow says:

    Nothing new under the sun. Augustine:

    ‘Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?

    ‘Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions”. ‘

    Link to Augustine Quote http://noanswersingenesis.org.au/saintaugustine.htm

    • I’d be tempted to call R.C. Sproul a young earth creationist, but I don’t think that would be entirely fair. He does believe that the Bible teaches that the earth and universe are young, but at the same time he concludes that he doesn’t know the age of the earth or universe, and I concur. Nobody really knows the age, but if we believe what God has revealed in the Bible, there’s no doubt that it’s young.

      As for God’s revelation in nature, I think we need to be careful, and Sproul seems to share that sentiment. We can see starlight, for example, but the starlight doesn’t speak for itself; it must be interpreted by fallible humans, so we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw.

      I don’t think Sproul said anything to contradict my views. And even though you’re certain that Exodus 20:11 has nothing to do with the age of the universe, I believe you’re certainly wrong. I’m not sure how else God could communicate such a concept any more clearly so that it could be understood. It seems that even if God tells us that he created the heavens and earth in six days, you’re going to reject that no matter what. You’d rather trust secular scientists who naturally reject Scripture.

      It’s interesting that you claim that “even a non-Christian knows something about the earth,” and that he’s certain of this knowledge based on reason and experience. I think you’re making a mistake by suggesting that such a person cannot be wrong, and that someone who believes in a young universe cannot be right, and that they cannot have such certainty based on logic, reason and experience. I find it insulting that you extol secularists and place them on a pedestal, while suggesting that those of us who believe what God has told us about the age of the universe and his creation are disgraceful, shameful, ignorant, an embarrassment, and are nonsensical. Fortunately I fear God and not man. I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). 1 Corinthians 1:19-21 tells us,

      “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” And, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

      Therefore my hope is in the Lord, not in whether or not you approve of my position on the age of the universe. I’ll boldly proclaim God’s word and encourage others to trust Scripture over man. Scripture is the authority, not fallible man’s interpretations of the universe. I’m sorry that you trust the secular world over God’s word and put your trust in man. I find that to be compromising God’s word, and that’s shameful.

      God is my witness. He knows my heart, and he’s already changed my heart to believe him when he told us that he created the heavens and the earth in six days. He’s the one who will judge us, and I accept that wholeheartedly and with great peace.

      Christians should never fear unbelievers who ridicule us with contempt and scorn. We need to uphold God’s word, and I would encourage you to do the same. God will change people’s hearts. Clinging to secular knowledge over God’s word may convince unbelievers that Christians will compromise their beliefs to accommodate their worldview, which will cause them to reject God’s word.

      If, however, unbelievers see Christians uncompromising, then they’ll want to know why they’re not willing to do so, and we can show them the truth of God’s word, and show them that God’s word is the truth and authority. Many unbelievers who later became Christians have also come to accept a young universe once they’ve learned to accept God’s word as the authority. I think the only stumbling block for these people is compromising Christians who reject God’s word.

  13. Michael Snow says:

    Wish I could use italics, bold, etc. in comments! The ‘claim that “even a non-Christian knows something about the earth,”’ was not mine, but Augustine’s in his commentary on Genesis. The whole of that post, except the heading with Augustine followed by a colon, is a quotation. And it addresses the point of Christians making sloppy claims about what the Bible says and thus being a poor witness before the world.

    Yes, R.C. Sproul does say that the Bible “gives us hints and inclinations” of a young earth. But he is clear that it “does not give us a date of Creation.” And the whole point that he was making was that we also have God-given natural revelation, which the Bible affirms, which must be listened to alongside special revelation (i.e. the Bible). His points bear a careful listen.

  14. Joseph Zieja says:

    A very nice, short article summing up some good points. Thanks for linking it on my own.

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