The Creation of the World

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

‘This account of creation lays the foundation of Israel’s world view about God, human beings, creation, and the laws that pertain to mankind (e.g., to worship no other gods, to keep the Sabbath, and to take no innocent life).’ (New Geneva)

‘This opening section of Genesis stands outside the main frame of the book set by the ten headings, ‘This is the account of’ (Gen 2:4 etc.). This shows that it is a prologue to the rest of the book, setting out who God is and how he relates to the world. It thus provides a key to the interpretation of Genesis, if not the whole Bible. But this prologue is more than a statement of theology, it is a hymn of praise to the Creator through whom and for whom all things exist.’ (NBC)

In the beginning… God was there at the beginning. There is something fresh and hopeful about a new beginning, whether it is the dawn of a new day, the birth of a baby, the first day of a holiday, or the opening strains of a piece of music. Genesis means ‘beginnings’ and it discloses the origins of the world, of human history, of family, of civilisation, of redemption. Genesis tells us of God’s purpose and plan for his entire Bible. It reveals God as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer. It teaches us the value and dignity of human beings as made in God’s image, saved by God’s grace, and used by God in the world. It underscores the tragedy and consequences of sin, and sets forth the promise of salvation through the establishment of the covenant, the provision of forgiveness, and the promise of the Messiah.  (Life Application Bible)

In the beginning, God…

‘The Jewish Rabbis have a saying, that there were seven things which God created before the world, by which they only mean to express the excellency of these things:-The law, repentance, paradise, hell, the throne of glory, the house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah. But to us it is enough to say, In the beginning was the Word, Jn 1:1.’ (MHC)

‘Prior to the beginning mentioned in Gen 1:1, we must postulate a beginningless eternity, during which God only existed. How must we fill up these blank ages in the eternal life of God? What did God do before the creation of the world?…He is represented in Scripture as always working, Jn 5:17. Can we then say that he passed from a state of inactivity to one of action? Moreover, how is the transition from a non-creative to a creative state to be reconciled with his immutability? And if he had the eternal purpose to create, why did he not carry it out at once? Why did he allow a whole eternity to elapse before his plan was put into execution? Moreover, why did he select that particular moment for his creative work?’ (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 130f)

‘The existence of God is the foundation of all religion. Moses begins with the Author of creation, before he treats of the promise of redemption. Paul preached God as creator (Ac 17:24) before he preached Christ as mediator…The devil directs his fiercest batteries against those doctrines in the Word, and those graces in the heart, which most exalt God and bring men to the lowest subjection to their Creator…Sin unlinks the dependence between God the Sovereign and man the subject. Sin endeavors to subject God to the wills of men. God is deposed, and man is enthroned; God made a slave, and man a sovereign above him.’ (Stephen Charnock)

‘The Hebrew word for “God,” the first subject of Genesis and the Bible, is plural to denote his majesty. There is no other god. (Deut 4:39; Isa 40:21,28; 43:10; Jn 1:1; Col 1:17) he is truth, the basis for all sound knowledge. (Jn 14:6) God is personal; he speaks and acts.’ (New Geneva)

God created the heavens and the earth – The word for ‘created’ is bara. There are a number of significant points about this word. For one thing, it is only ever used with God as its subject: creation is a divine prerogative, even though by extension we can speak of human creativity. For another thing, the word is used only infrequently even of God’s action: (e.g. Gen 1:1,21,27) this points to the dignity and majesty of this mode of divine action. Again, when the word is used, no mention is ever made of any materials that God made have used to create with: an artist uses a variety of material (paint, stone, wood, and so on), but God does not simply work with things, he brings things into being. This is not to say that God does not use materials: it is just to say that his sovereignty over the materials is so complete that the materials themselves are irrelevant to the ultimate creative achievement.

Although God can and does create ‘out of nothing’ (as taught in this verse), he also creates new things from pre-existent materials, as in Gen 1:27; 2:7. The doctrine of creation includes both ex nihilo and mediate creation, the latter involving pre-existing materials, other agencies, and, possibly, large tracts of time.

‘The first article in the creed of inspiration relates to physical nature’ (Dawson).

All things are to be understood in relation to God as their ultimate cause. This hast vast implications for every area of our lives, including education, politics, economics, family life, moral values, and scientific research.

The heavens and the earth – There is a visible, earthly reality and also an invisible, heavenly reality. Although the phrase here can just mean ‘the universe’, Scripture teaches elsewhere that there is a ‘heaven’ as well as an ‘earth’. The universe is an edifice with two stories: a heaven and an earth. ‘Heaven’ can mean ‘the sky’, but more often it refers to God’s dwelling place, and that of the angels. And these two levels of reality are not isolated from each other.  In miracles, and in the incarnation, heaven visits earth. In the resurrection of the body, earth visits heaven.  The divine ordering of the world makes science possible.  But there is more to this world than can be seen with the human eye, or investigated by human enquiry.

God is the unargued cause

No proof is given of the Creator. He is outside all explanation. He is a reality to be confronted, not a theory to be debated. So, in Scripture, creation is asserted and not explained. God is lit., Elohim, a generic term for deity as well as a proper name for the true God. It is used of pagan gods, (Gen 31:30 Ex 12:12) angels, (Ps 8:5) men, (Ps 82:6) and judges, (Ex 21:6) though most frequently of the true God. Its basic meaning is “strong one, mighty leader, supreme Deity.” The form of the word is plural, indicating plentitude of power and majesty and allowing for the NT revelation of the triunity of the Godhead.

Awesome!

In this simple statement we are presented with one of the most awesome concepts confronting the modern mind. Our galaxy is spinning at 490,000 mph. Yet even at this speed it needs 200 million years to make one rotation. There are over 1 billion other galaxies like ours in the known universe. Perhaps the number of stars in creation is equal to all the grains of all the sands on all the beaches of the world. Yet there is a remarkable order in all this vastness and complexity. To say that the universe “just happened” requires more faith than to believe that God is behind these amazing statistics. Truly, God created a wonderful universe. And he did so, not because he had to, but because he chose to. We should resist the temptation to reduce God’s creation to merely scientific explanations. We should see in it the fingerprints of an all-wise, all-powerful, Creator.

The creation reflects the power and wisdom of the Creator

Matthew Henry notes that we observe in the physical world variety, beauty, exactness and accuracy, power, order, and mystery. Surely, to believe that all this happened by chance requires a more daring faith than to rest in a belief that God made it so. How foolish to contemplate the wonder of creation, and not to acknowledge a Creator! If God is Creator, then he is owner and master by incontestable right. See Rev 4:11.

How great is our God!

With him all things are possible, Ps 121:2. In the OT the word ‘create’ is used only of divine activity. What is the difference between divine and human creativity? See Ps 102:25; Isa 45:18.

You can never take God by surprise

‘You can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there “in the beginnings.” Before man existed, god acted. Before man stirs himself to seek God, God has sought man. In the Bible we do not see man groping after God; we see God reaching after man.’ (John Stott)

What is denied

Far from simply aping other ancient accounts of origins, Genesis offers a radically different theology:- ‘In this short sentence, the Bible places itself in antagonism to a whole phalanx of opinions taught in ancient schools of philosophy or incorporated with ancient systems of religion. This sentence is a denial of the Greek doctrine of the eternity of matter; of the Epicurean doctrine of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, as that out of which the Kosmos arose; or the stoic doctrine of an all-compelling fate; of the Pantheistic doctrine of the identity of God with the universe; of the Polytheistic doctrine of a plurality of gods; and of the dualistic doctrine of a good and a bad principle dividing the formation and the rule of the world between them.’ (W. Lindsay Alexander, Q. in Smith, The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven, p. 39)

Genesis and ancient cosmogonies

Ancient cosmogonies were crude polytheistic and magical accounts of origins. Actually, the Mesopotamian stories tended to focus on the origins of the gods themselves, offering a theogony rather than a cosmogony. The God of the Hebrews, on the contrary, has no biography! Also, ancient people blurred the boundaries between the divine and the physical. For them, the universe itself was alive; a mystical union existed between physical phenomena and the gods. Genesis declares that God is Creator, distinct from His creation, though intimately concerned for His creation. The ancients also believed that creation was the result of a titanic struggle between primeval forces which was settled in the subjugation of chaos by the gods of cosmos followed by the emergence of heaven and earth. Yet, the biblical depiction has a God who speaks creation into existence by the authority of His word; no rival threatens Him, and no force disobeys. The biblical account is polemical, deliberately opposing the false notions of the pagans. (Mathews, in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, ch. 23)

1:2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.

The earth was formless and empty – The world was at the beginning an orderless chaos. See Jer 4:23 Isa 34:11. These passages indicate that a sense of waste and chaos is meant, rather like a trackless desert. The rest of the chapter will show the developing order imposed by God. How easy it is for us to reverse the creative order, and to cause the world to sink back into its primeval chaos and formlessness! ‘The earth is almost reduced to the same condition again by the sin of man, under which the creation groans. See Jer 4:23, I beheld the earth, and lo it was without form, and void.’ (MHC)

‘Some understand a “gap” of an indeterminate period of time between verses 1 and 2, and translate “became” rather than “was.” Although the Hebrew word may mean “became” (as in Gen 19:26), the construction of the clause does not support a consecutive statement describing something that happened subsequent to verse 1 (“and”) but rather describing something included in verse 1 (“but”). In other words, the initial creation was formless and empty, a condition soon remedied. The phrase means that at this point in God’s creative activity the earth was yet unfashioned and uninhabited.’ (Ryrie) The earth was yet to be ‘shaped’ (for example, by the series of ‘separations”) and populated.

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters – The Holy Spirit had a key role in creation. The Heb means both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’. A feminine quality is apparent here: the picture is that of a mother eagle, fluttering over her young, nurturing them into strong, active life. See Job 33:4 Ps 104:30. ‘It is the Spirit who, everywhere diffused, sustains all things, causes them to grow, and quickens them in heaven and in earth’ (Calvin).

God is intimately involved in his creation

Although the Bible does indeed use a spatial metaphor of God’s relationship to the world (he is ‘up there’; we are ‘down here’), we are taught here the divine immanence which gives the lie to deism. God’s relationship with his world is not that of a landlord, who visits occasionally to check up, collect the rent, or make a few running repairs; it is rather one of continuous, dynamic interaction, unveiled in Jesus’ incarnation, but active at all times.

‘Learn hence, That God is not only the author of all being, but the fountain of life and spring of motion. Dead matter would be for ever dead if he did not quicken it. And this makes it credible to us that God should raise the dead. That power which brought such a world as this out of confusion, emptiness, and darkness, at the beginning of time, can, at the end of time, bring our vile bodies out of the grave, though it is a land of darkness as darkness itself, and without any order, (Job 10:22) and can make them glorious bodies.’ (MHC)

The Son and the Spirit were active in Creation

The Son is often referred to as the one ‘through’ whom all things were created, Jn 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2. The Son was an active agent in carrying out the plans and directions of God the Father.   The Holy Spirit’s activity in creation is often viewed as completing, filling, and giving life to all that God has made. Gen 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4. The Heb. ‘ruach’ can mean ‘breath’, ‘wind’, or ‘spirit’, depending on the context.  The Holy Spirit plays a key role in God’s creation.  ‘For it is the Spirit who, everywhere diffused, sustains all things, causes them to grow, and quickens them in heaven and earth’ (Calvin).

1:3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.

And God said… – God speaks with sovereign authority. Compare God’s commands with our own, in terms of (a) wisdom; (b) power; (c) certainty of outcome. The NT will make clear the identification of Christ as ‘the Word of God’, Jn 1:1ff; Col 1:15ff; Heb 1:2-3.

G. Wenham comments on the careful arrangement of the prologue: ‘Ten divine commands result in eight acts of creation spread over six days, so that there is a correspondence between days one to three and days four to six. On day one, God created ‘light’ and on day four, ‘lights’ (sun, moon and stars); on day two, he created the sky and sea and on day five, the dwellers in the sky and sea (birds and fish); on day three, he created the land and vegetation and on day six, the dwellers in the land (animals and mankind), giving them plants to eat; finally, on the seventh day (the Sabbath), he rested.’ (NBC)

“Let there be light” – Not the sun, which was created on the fourth day, Gen 1:16. ‘Light is a form of energy and may be produced in many different ways, not just by sun and stars (which were not created until the fourth day). Contemporary cosmologists say that the universe began with a hot big bang, which must have made a very bright light.’ (NBC)

‘As the old, so the new creation begins in light; the opening of the eyes is the first work of the Spirit.’ (Flavel)

1:6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so. 1:8 God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

Verses 6-8 appear to reflect an ancient cosmology, according to which there is a body of water in the ‘expanse’ (‘firmament’) above the sky.  This body of water (mayim) can scarcely have been the water vapour contained in the clouds, for there were several other, more common words for that.

1:9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. 1:10 God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” God saw that it was good.

Kidner draws attention to the themes of differentiation, v9,10, and fullness, 11,12, the latter becoming prominent in the rest of the chapter. Alternatively, we might suggest that the twin themes are differentiation and propagation.

The water…dry ground – May be regarded as the oceans and the continents respectively.

How does water gather to one place? – It flows, following the law of gravity. How does dry ground appear? – It moves.

God said…and it was so – The world is shaped and formed in perfect obedience to God’s command.

God called… – ‘The act of naming this and other parts of the creation was, in the Semitic world, an evidence of lordship. (cf. 2 King 23:34) Note the significance of this in Gen 2:19.’ (Ryrie)

1:11 God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. 1:12 The land produced vegetation—plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. 1:13 There was evening, and there was morning, a third day.”

How does the land ‘produce vegetation’? – By the propagation of life. Note the emphasis on ‘seed-bearing’.

“According to their various kinds” – There is orderliness and predictability here, that makes not only science, but logic and reasoning, possible. Compare James’ reasoning in James 3:12.

‘There are fixed boundaries beyond which reproductive variations cannot go, but it is impossible to know whether “kind” is to be equated with families, genera, or some other category of biological classification.’ (Ryrie)

‘Fertility, so often deified in the ancient world, is a created capacity, from the hand of the one God.’

1:14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 1:15 and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. 1:16 God made two great lights—the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. 1:17 God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, 1:18 to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. 1:19 There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.

“Let there be lights” – ‘The light source of the first day was replaced by the sun and moon. Their purposes were to distinguish day and night, to be signs (by which men get their bearings, as well as signs of judgment, Mt 24:29, to mark off the seasons, and to give light to the earth.’ (Ryrie)

“Let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” – According to the Sceptic’s Annotated Bible, this (along with Judg 5:20; Mt 2:1f; and Lk 21:25) suggests that the Bible approves of astrology.  This would then be in contradiction to Lev 19:26; Deut 18:10-12; Isa 47:13f; Jer 10:2; and Zeph 1:4f which all condemn the practice of astrology.  In fact, the present verse is self-explanatory: the sun and the moon ‘mark season and days and years’.  That is to say, the sun apparent journey of the sun across the sky marks the passage of the day and night, the phases of the moon marks a lunar month, and the elevation of the sun in the sky, along with the length of daylight, marks the passing of the year.  It’s nothing to do with astrology.

What we can say is that the Genesis account differs markedly from ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cosmologies, which regarded sun, moon, and stars as divine beings.  ‘Instead of humans bowing down to serve the heavenly bodies, the heavenly bodies were created by God to serve humans’ (Lamoureux, Four Views on the Historical Adam).

Two great lights – The sun and the moon.  Those who adopt a rather literal interpretation must account for the apparent creation of these bodies on the 4th day – after the creation of the earth itself.  The answer offered by Geisler (Baker’s Encylopedia of Apologetics) is that it was on the fourth day that they appeared (due to disappearance of the original vapour).

1:20 God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 1:21 God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. 1:22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 1:23 There was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.”

God saw that it was good – ‘beautiful and in perfect ecological balance.’ (Ryrie)

1:24 God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” It was so. 1:25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creatures that creep along the ground according to their kinds. God saw that it was good.”

“Let the land produce living creatures” – Other creation accounts from the ANE speak of creatures (and humans) ‘sprouting’ from the land, and this appears to be the implied mechanism here.

“According to their kinds” – Anti-evolutionists argue that this proves the immutability of the species.  Lamoureux (Four View on the Historical Adam), however, argues that the language is phenomenological.  Ancient people would have observed that sheep only give birth to sheep, human to humans, and so on.  It would therefore have been reasonable for them to assume that there must have been an original, fully-formed, member (or pair of members) of each species: hence the assumption of an original pair of humans, Adam and Eve.

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

“Let us make man” – There is both continuity and discontinuity between the creation of the animal kingdom and the creation of humans.  They are the same, yet different.  Humans may be the pinnacle of God’s creation, but they have a kinship with other living and breathing things that they neglect at their peril.  So it is with the man and the woman: it has been said that they are like the two banks of a river, having equal importance and yet distinct and complementary differences too.

‘The works of creation moved to a climax on day six when mankind was created in two sexes. That this is seen as the crowning feat of God’s creation is emphasized by the lengthy comments on their creation and role, (Gen 1:26-29) which are much fuller than those about any other creature. Indeed, the works of the five preceding days seem to focus on creating a home for mankind. Those aspects of creation that most affect human existence (e.g. plant and animal life and the sun and moon) are described more fully than the creation of light, land, or seas, which are less significant. God’s concern for humanity is made explicit in the provision of plants for food.’ (NBC)

Genesis views humankind as both in nature and over it – there is continuity and discontinuity.

“Let us…our”

Why a plural name for God?
Much has been made of the plural name for God here (‘Elohom‘) and of the expression ‘Let us make…’.  A number of interpretations have been proposed:-

The plural of majesty or intensity (as with the royal ‘we’).  This was the view of Keil, Dillmann, and Driver.  But this is not well attested in Hebrew.  Barnes Notes: ‘Such was not the usual style of monarchs in the ancient East. Pharaoh says, “I have dreamed a dream” (Gen. 41:15). Nebuchadnezzar, “I have dreamed” (Dan. 2:3). Darius the Mede, “I make a decree” (Dan. 6:26). Cyrus, “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2). Darius, “I make a decree” (Ezra 6:8). We have no ground, therefore, for transferring it to the style of the heavenly King.’  Among modern commentators, Matthews agrees that this approach is flawed, ‘since the point of the verse is the unique correspondence between God and man, not the majesty of God.’

The plural of self-deliberation, ‘depicting God anthropomorphically as someone in contemplation’ (Matthews).  Gregory of Nyssa regarded this as the language of deliberation, adding, ‘This same language was not used for (the creation) of other things. The command was simple when light was created; God said, “let there be light.”…For humans, there was deliberation…See how worthy you are! Your origins are not in an imperative. Instead, God deliberated about the best way to bring to life a creation worthy of honor.’.  This is the view of many recent commentators, including Westermann.  Matthews suggests that ‘this is supported by the change to the singular (“his own image”) in v. 27, which indicates that the figure of “deliberation” is completed. In ancient myths divine deliberation prefaces the creation of humans.  Self-deliberation is attested in the Old Testament (e.g., Pss 42:5, 11; 43:5), but there is no attestation that the plural form is used in this way.’  In Gen 18:17, God’s self-deliberation is singular (“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”).

Angels, constituting the ‘divine council’, as indicated in 1 King 22:19–22; Job 1:6–12; Isa 6:8, and in some of the psalms.  On the close association of angels with the wonderful works of God, see Job 38:4,7; Lk 2:13f.  This was the view of Philo and of Jewish commentators generally.  Wenham inclines to this view.  Matthews notes that ‘a difficulty with this view is the inclusion of angels in the phrase “our image” in Gen 1:26. In what sense is the human being created in the image of angels?’  Matthews adds that ‘the overriding problem with this view is that there has been no mention of an angelic court in chap. 1, and the text is clear that mankind is made in God’s image (“his image,” v. 27).’

The Trinity.  This has been the traditional view of Christian commentators.  They note that the very fact that God addresses himself supposes an inner distinction in God which is explained elsewhere by mention of the Spirit (Gen 1:2). Accordingly, it is suggested that we see here the first glimmerings of a trinitarian revelation.  So the Puritan Thomas Watson: ‘It is the manner of artificers to be more than ordinarily accurate when they are about their masterpieces. Man was to be the masterpiece of this visible world, therefore God consulted about making so rare a piece. A solemn council of the sacred persons in the Trinity was called. ‘Let us make man, and let us make him in our own image.’ On the king’s coin his own image or effigy is stamped; so God stamped his image on man, and made him partaker of many divine qualities.’  Matthew Henry: ‘The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, consult about it and concur in it, because man, when he was made, was to be dedicated and devoted to Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’  So also Barnes.  The Kostenbergers: ‘Most likely…the reference is to a plurality within the Godhead (“ Let us make man”) issuing in a plurality in humanity, male and female (“male and female he created them”).’ (God’s Design for Man and Woman)

Wenham, however, says that ‘it is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author,’  adding that this interpretation loses much of its force if ‘רוח’ is translated ‘wind’ in Gen 1:2.  However, he accepts a reference to Christ as the sensus plenior of the passage, noting that ‘certainly the NT sees Christ as active in creation with the Father, and this provided the foundation for the early Church to develop a trinitarian interpretation. But such insights were certainly beyond the horizon of the editor of Genesis.’  Matthews adopts a similar interpretation.

Polytheism.  But modern commentators agree that Genesis 1 ‘is distinctly antimythological in its thrust, explicitly rejecting ancient Near Eastern views of creation. Thus modern commentators are quite agreed that Gen 1:26 could never have been taken by the author of this chapter in a polytheistic sense.’ (Wenham)

Goldingay (Student Questions on the Pentateuch, online) thinks that the ‘us’ is ‘perhaps God and his aides, but more likely this is the “royal plural”—the way someone important can talk.  We don’t know, but whatever the answer, the point is to emphasize the importance of this particular act of creation—it required special deliberation.  (It’s not the Trinity—at least, that’s not what God was wanting to communicate to the people for whom he inspired the story, because they didn’t know about the Trinity.  Indeed, does the Trinity ever speak as “us”?  Of course God was Trinity at creation, but the awareness of that had to await the coming of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit.)’

'Image' and 'likeness'
Some think that there is a distinction between these two words, with ‘image’ (selem) reflecting the physical, and ‘likeness’ (demuth) the spiritual aspects of ādām.

Richard Rohr goes further: ‘“Image” is our objective identity as children of God and “likeness” is our degree of personal appropriation of that very identity. We need both, although many Christians were not told about the first and gave exclusive emphasis to the second. Largely ineffective moralism has thus dominated most organized religion—without any grounding or power from core identity.’

It is likely, however, that the two words are near-synonyms, the repetition reflecting Hebrew parallelism.  In one ancient text the two terms are used for a ‘statue’, although the command which immediately follows indicates that man is not merely a statue but is, rather, a responsible agent – God’s viceroy, indeed.  But even the idea of a ‘statue’ is fruitful, given that in the ancient world a statue of a king could be placed in a distant part of his empire to represent his authority when he was not personally present.  ‘This suggests that the function of the image is to reflect the divine will on earth in such a way as to extend God’s kingdom into every area of nature, society and culture’ (Hess)  In 2 Kings 16:10 selem is translated “fashion” or “pattern” (NASB), “sketch” (NIV, REB), “exact model” (TEV).  (See the discussion by Hess in DOT:P, art. ‘Adam’)

Kidner comments: ‘The words image and likeness reinforce one another: there is no ‘and’ between the phrases, and Scripture does not use them as technically distinct expressions, as some theologians have done, whereby the ‘image’ is man’s indelible constitution as a rational and morally responsible being, and the ‘likeness’ is that spiritual accord with the will of God which was lost at the fall. The distinction exists, but it does not coincide with these terms. After the fall, man is still said to be in God’s image (Gen. 9:6) and likeness (Jas 3:9); nonetheless he requires to be ‘renewed … after the image of him that created him’ (Col. 3:10; cf. Eph. 4:24).’

Hartley sees the two words as closely related to one another: ‘Image (tselem) and likeness (demut) are used in similar ways in the OT. “Image” refers to a copy or a close representation (it is also used infrequently for an idol; Num. 33:52; Ezek. 7:20; 16:17). “Likeness” emphasizes the comparison of one object with another or the correspondence between two objects. Each word tempers the other. The use of two terms for the comparison of humans with God, coupled with God’s use of plural pronouns in taking counsel, guards against the belief that humans are divine. Humans, bearing the image of God, therefore are truly like God, but they are not identical to God.’

Humankind was made in the image of God

This verse, and those following, begin to unpack the meaning of this:-

  1. “Male and female he created them” – the two sexes together make up our full humanity.
  2. “Subdue the earth” – science, technology and economics each play their part in the full and proper use of God’s world.
  3. “Be fruitful and increase in number” – bearing and rearing children is a full and honourable part of humanity’s task.
  4. “Work the land and take care of it” – the world’s food needs are to be met by working and caring for the land and sharing the produce.
  5. “A man will be united to his wife” – married partnership is God’s way for full relationship between the sexes.
  6. “God made the seventh day holy” – a pattern is given of rest and renewal one day in seven.

‘The scope of God’s image in man is not defined in Gen 1:26-27, but the context makes it clear. Gen 1:1-25 sets forth God as personal, rational (having intelligence and will, able to form plans and execute them), creative, competent to control the world he has made, and morally admirable, in that all he creates is good. Plainly, God’s image will include all these qualities. Verses 28-30 show God blessing newly created humans (that must mean telling them their privilege and destiny) and setting them to rule creation as his representatives and deputies. The human capacity for communication and relationship with both God and other humans, and the God-given dominion over the lower creation (highlighted in Ps. 8 as the answer to the question, What is man?), thus appear as further facets of the image.’ (Packer, Concise Theology)

‘Apart from God himself, the nearest thing to God is a human soul.’ (A. W. Tozer)

‘Man is neither angel nor beast’ (Pascal), nor some mixture of the two, combining a celestial principle with animal matter.  He is ‘the image of God’.

Certainly, man has solidarity with the animals: he arrived with them on the sixth day, and his food was appointed at the same time as theirs.  But neither animals nor angels are made in God’s image.

The ‘image of god’ denotes derivation and dependence (he is only an image); but also close approximation and dignity.  According to Motlmann, human beings are involved in three fundamental relationships that denote God’s image: they rule over earthly creatures as God’s representatives; they are God’s counterparts on earth, and are made for communion with him; and they are the appearance of God’s splendour, and his glory on earth.

In what does the image of God consist?  This is not made clear in the passage.  It is, perhaps, reflected in transcendence, communication, and spirituality.  An image can constitute a declaration of ownership, Mt 22:20f.

A symbol of God’s rule?  The Kostenbergers: ‘Today, when you hear the word image, you may think of a picture or drawing, but in the day when Genesis was written, the term carried a slightly different connotation. In the ancient Near East, the image of a ruler commonly represented the potentate’s presence in his kingdom. A ruler’s image thus signified his rule, such as when his or her likeness was minted on a coin. In the case of humans, as the male-female image of God, they symbolize his rule, having been created to reflect his glory to all creation (see Ps. 8: 6– 8). Neither the angels nor the animals are in charge of creation— humans are, created in God’s image. At the same time, they are to exercise dominion not in an abusive or oppressive manner but as responsible guardians of the earth for God.’ (God’s Design for Man and Woman)

‘I understand the idea of the “image,” as in Genesis 1: 26– 28, to mean that humans are designed to function like angled mirrors. We are created in order to reflect the worship of all creation back to the Creator and by that same means to reflect the wise sovereignty of the Creator into the world. Human beings, worshipping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world. “Worship” was and is a matter of gazing with delight, gratitude, and love at the creator God and expressing his praise in wise, articulate speech. Those who do this are formed by this activity to become the generous, humble stewards through whom God’s creative and sustaining love is let loose into the world.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

Genesis does not say that man is ‘the son of God’, for this would imply divinity (but see Lk 3:38; Acts 17:28).  Generally, Scripture reserves the notion of ‘son of god’ for our adoption as children through Jesus Christ.

What happened to the image of God in man following the fall?  Was it tainted, or destroyed?  Gen 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7; James 3:6 all teach that the image is permanent.

The continued possession of this privilege explains why it is scandalous to take human life, or to curse man while blessing the Lord.  The death entailed by sin is the setting up of a fatal contradiction, an utter perversion of original intent.  After the fall humankind remains humankind, with all the ensuing inviolability and responsibility, but a grisly shadow of himself, a contradictory image, a caricature.

We see the perfect image of God in Jesus Christ, Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4.

Many today seem to be in crisis because of law self-esteem.  The difficulties we have in making and sustaining relationships lead to a poor view of self-worth.  But God’s image in man means that not one person is worthless in his sight.

If we are created in the image of God, then our love for God will lead to love for our neighbour, James 3:9.

‘Science enormously emphasizes the unique status of Man. It makes him much more obviously the lord of creation, the measure of all things, the image of God. What it does not do is to give any guarantee whatever that this magician will use his powers well, that he will advance “pari passu” in moral as in material things. Put those two facts together, and you find yourself facing the two dogmas of the Creation and the Fall.’ (G. K. Chesterton) Cf. Ps 8:6; Rom 3:23; 1 Jn 1:8.

More than animals

‘If you keep stressing only the continuity human beings share with animals, then eventually you might come out with the kind of position that Peter Singer at Princeton University adopts. He argues, in effect, that all animal life ought to have, more or less, exactly the same kind of rights that human beings have; conversely, human beings are not intrinsically more important than, say, dolphins or chimpanzees. After all, genetically speaking we are mostly the same stuff. We are physical beings; they are physical beings. They are born, they live, they die; we too are born, we live, we die. But Genesis does not see things quite that way. It insists that human beings and human beings alone are made in the image of God.’ (D.A. Carson, The God Who is There)

This verse does not equip us to adjudicate for or against the theory of evolution

To say that God created man in his own image is not to imply that man is like God in every respect.  Therefore, it is specious reasoning to attempt to argue, with Kassner, that ‘anyone…who says that we came from the apes must also be prepared to say that God, in whose image we are made, must be like an ape—or, at least, that God must have been ape-like when he created Adam (maybe he’s evolving too?)!’ (Opening Up Genesis)

“Let them rule” – Note that the man and the woman were given joint rulership of the world and everything in it.

‘Ps. 8:4-8 offers a marvellous poetic comment on this idea. Rule implies lordship but not exploitation. Man, as God’s representative, must rule his subjects, as God does, for their own good. While legitimizing human use of the world’s resources, God gives no licence for our abuse of his creation.’ (NBC)

‘Humankind, created on day 6, is given authority to rule over what God had made on days 4 and 5. The image of God is not that spark in us that makes us human rather than animal—like reason, self-consciousness, or consciousness of God. In Genesis it means that humans represent God in the world, nothing less but certainly nothing more. This is not to dismiss the question of what makes us human and how humanity uniquely reflects God, especially given the challenge of evolution; but “image of God” is not the biblical way of addressing those ideas.’ (Enns, The Evolution of Adam)

1:27 God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

So God created – Putting together the divine resolve (“Let us make man…and let them rule”) with the divine creation (“So God created…”) and the divine blessing (“Be fruitful…fill the earth and subdue it…”), Stott says that the emphasis is on three fundamental aspects of humanness: that we are made by him in his own image, that we are made male and female, and that together we are given dominion over the creation.  Men and women are equal beneficiaries in all of this.  ‘There is no suggestion in the text that either sex is more like God than the other, or that either sex is more responsible for the earth than the other.’ (Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed., p328).

Man – The word ʾādām is used generically here.

In the image of God he created them

  1. Only an image. An image ‘exists only by derivation. It is not the original, nor is it anything without the original. Mankind’s being an image stresses the radical nature of his dependence’ (Blocher).
  2. The only image. Although only an image, and although the Genesis accounts stress our solidarity with the animal kingdom, it is not they, nor even angels, but only human creatures who are made in God’s image. The narrative indicates that this was climax of God’s six days’ work.   (Blocher)

Blocher adds that there is a polemical thrust to this declaration. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the pharaoh would often be referred to as the ‘image of God’. But Genesis applies it to all of humankind.

‘In the ancient world, as indeed in some parts of the modern one, great rulers would often set up statues of themselves in prominent places, not so much in their own home territory (where everyone knew who they were, and that they were in charge), but in their foreign or far-flung dominions. Far more statues of Roman emperors were found in Greece, Turkey and Egypt than in Italy or Rome itself. For an emperor, the point of placing an image of yourself in the subject territory was that the subjects in that country would be reminded that you were their ruler, and would conduct themselves accordingly.

‘That has, to us, a threatening sound. We are democrats. We don’t want far-off rulers giving us orders, still less (as we rightly suspect) demanding our money. But that only shows how much our relationships, with God, with the world, and with one another, have been flawed and corrupted. In the early stories, the point was that the creator God loved the world he had made, and wanted to look after it in the best possible way. To that end, he placed within his world looking-after creature, a creature who would demonstrate to the creation who he, the creator, really was, and who would go to work to develop the creation and make it flourish and fulfil its purpose. The creature (or rather this family of creatures, the human race) would model and embody that interrelatedness, that mutual and fruitful knowing, trusting and loving, which was the creator’s intention.’ (Wright, Simply Christian, 31f)

‘Those who regard a human being as nothing but a programmed machine (behaviourists) or an absurdity (existentialists) or a naked ape (humanistic evolutionalists) are all denigrating our creation in God’s image.  True, we are also rebels against God and deserve nothing at his hand except judgment, but our fallenness has not entirely destroyed our God-likeness.  More important still, in spite of our revolt against him, God has loved, redeemed, adopted, and re-created us in Christ.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 139)

Why ‘image’, and not ‘son’ of God?  Lk 3:38 calls Adam ‘the son of God, and Paul takes up a line from a pagan poet to a similar effect, Acts 17:28. ‘Why does Genesis not state it clearly? Doubtless it wanted to keep as far away as possible any pantheistic temptation. “Son” rather than “image” could have suggested that mankind possessed divinity, the idea that had to be banned. In particular, we would say that Scripture wished to reserve the word “son” for the closer, indissoluble relationship of communion that God established with us in Jesus Christ, the Son who became the new man. In the Son we become sons, an act of grace which fulfils and transcends our primeval quasi-sonship.’ (Blocher)

Male and female he created them – Eve’s physical formation is not detailed until 2:18-23.

Human sexuality is God-ordained. No other distinction (eg race or social class) is mentioned at this stage. Even with the important distinction between the two sexes, both participate equally in the image of God. With this simple”] statement a host of falsehoods about sexuality asceticism, deification of sexuality, fear of sexuality – disappears.

‘If both sexes bear the image of God…then this seems to include not only our humanity (authentic humanness reflecting divinity), but our plurality (our relationships of love reflecting those which unit the persons of the Trinity) and even, at least in the broadest sense, our sexuality.  Is it too much to say that since God, when he made humanity in his own image, made them male and female, there must be within the being of God himself something which corresponds to the “feminine” as well as the “masculine” in humankind?’ (Stott, Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed., p328f)

The text leads us to avoid, on the one hand, the obsessiveness of the Syrian and Canaanite nature cults and the eroticism of our own age, and on the other hand, the prudery and repression associated with the Victorian age.

No other distinction (e.g. race, or social class) is mentioned.  Even with the important distinction of the two sexes, both participate equally in the image of God.

With the simple statement a host of falsehoods about sexuality – asceticism, deification of sexuality, fear of sexuality and so on – disappears.

1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”

God…said to them – Packer suggests that within the first three chapters of Genesis we see the word of God in relation to his created world in all its possible relations: ‘Here is God addressing human beings directly; thus fellowship between God and them is inaugurated. Note the categories into which God’s utterances to them in the rest of the story fall. God’s first word to Adam and Eve is a word of command, summoning them to fulfill humankind’s vocation of ruling the created order. (“Be fruitful . . . and have dominion . . . ,” v. 28.) Then follows a word of testimony (“Behold . . . ,” v. 29) in which God explains that green plants, crops and fruits have been made for humans and animals to eat. Next we meet a prohibition, with sanction appended: “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Finally, after the Fall, God comes near to Adam and Eve and speaks to them again, and this time his words are words of promise, both favorable and unfavorable, for while he undertakes, on the one hand, that the woman’s seed shall bruise the serpent’s head, on the other hand he ordains for Eve grief in childbirth, for Adam frustrating labor, and for both certain death (Gen 3:15–19).’ (Knowing God)

“Be fruitful and increase in number” – ‘that is, to procreate intelligently, responsibly and believingly, trusting in God to provide. Their sexuality was not to be used irresponsibly, but neither was it to be suppressed because of unbelief and unfaith.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

“Fill the earth” – that is, replenish it. ‘They were to move over the horizons, over the hills and the rivers, into the unknown. They were to be creative and adventurous, to want to know, unable to be content with not knowing. God put that drive into every human being and into all authentic humanness. The young should never be discouraged from experimenting, innovating and exploring. It is their God-given destiny to move out and to live on the frontier. The church of God, too, must live on the frontier, creatively and imaginatively as God meant her to do. Eden was a great place. But the man and the woman were not meant to stay there. They were meant to move out and fill the whole earth.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

“Rule over…every living creature” – ‘We take this to mean that man was to research and harness the forces and resources of the cosmos through the procedures of pure science and technology. But we remember with gladness that God put the first human pair into a garden, not into an academic institution, and that they were to express their divine image-bearing by digging and delving, by the great conjoint operations of conservation and improvement. This is surely our responsibility too: not only to keep, but to till; not only to conserve, but also to improve whatever has been entrusted to us, whether it be a garden, a landscape or a theological heritage.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

No licence for exploitation.  It is wrong to suppose that this gives us licence to selfishly exploit other living things. But this was precisely the charge made by Lynn White Jr. in a famous article published in Science (1967) entitled “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis.” White argued that primitive animism taught that every tree, river, mountain and so on was inhabited by a protective spirit, who had to be placated before the tree could be felled, the river dammed, the mountain mined. In overcoming animism, Christianity made possible the thoughtless exploitation of nature, and used Gen 1:28 as a licence for doing so. But Scripture uniformly teaches that all things are created by God and are therefore good. There is no licence for exploitation. ‘God is still the owner of the natural world, (Ps 24:1) and all the beasts of the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills are his. (Ps 50:10-12) Mortals are mere stewards under God. Under no condition may we abuse and run roughshod over the natural order for the sake of quick profits or for the sheer fun of doing so. Indeed, even Job was aware that the land would cry out against him if, in God’s eyes, Job abused it.’ (Job 31:37-40) (HSB) our fellow-creatures are not here simply for our benefit; we are all here – them and us – for God’s glory. Man rules as God’s representative, made in his image, v27. White thought that it would be better if we asserted the equality of all creatures, including humans: but this neglects the very real status of humankind as created in God’s image. We must concede, however, that in consequence of the Fall, man’s sovereignty and creation’s submission have been deeply flawed.

The so-called ‘cultural mandate’ can be found in Gen 2, which will present a picture of man as God’s estate manager, cultivating and nurturing the garden, with the animals as man’s companions. Man can be seen as the ‘priest of nature’, giving voice to her inarticulate praise to the Creator of all things.

‘Mankind was made to rule creation.  This noblest of creatures was set at the head of the created order, and told to subdue it, Gen 1:28; that is, to map and tap its resources, to bring out and utilise its latent possibilities, to put it to work for him, and thus to harness and develop all its powers for the enriching of his own life, in obedience to God.  God gave us richly all things to enjoy (cf 1 Tim 6:17).  He willed to be glorified through humanity’s learning to appreciate and admire his wisdom and goodness as Creator.  In other words, God commissioned mankind to build a culture and civilisation.’ (J.I. Packer, God’s Words, p61).

1:29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” It was so. 1:31 God saw all that he had made—and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.”

It was very good – God pronounced all things he had made ‘very good’.  Carson says: ‘There is no hint in Genesis 1–2 of death or decay, of butchery, malice, hate, one-upmanship, arrogance, pride, or destruction. There is no hint of any of this. Everything is very good.’ (The God Who is There)

As Matthew Henry remarks, God’s creation is good, for,

  1. it is all that he intended;
  2. it fits the purpose for which it was intended;
  3. it is serviceable to man, who was designed to have dominion over it;
  4. it glorifies God.

If God has pronounced all things ‘very good’, we should be thankful for the goodness of creation, and for the material things he has given us, which are intended to be used for him, Ps 104:24; 1 Tim 4:3ff. We should delight in God’s creation, and take joy in the handiwork of the Master-craftsman. Because God’s handiwork is ‘very good’, he values it and care for it – and so should we. Yet how much more does he care for you and me, Mt 6:28ff!

Preaching from Genesis 1

Gordon Wenham points out that Genesis 1 cannot be a scientific account of creation; if it were, how could its ancient readers possibly have made sense of it?  It is more like a myth, except that the term suggests to the public mind something that is not true.

Wenham says that his approach would be to show some of the similarities between Genesis 1 and the ancient Mesopotamian stories of origins.  He would then remark that any visitor from ancient Babylon or Egypt to Jerusalem would be struck, not by the similarities, but by the differences between the Genesis account and their own stories:-

‘There is only one God.  There is no theogony, with gods and goddesses marrying and having children.  The sun and moon are created objects, not gods. Mankind is the climax of God’s creation, not an afterthought necessitated by a strike by the lesser gods.  God provides mankind with good, not he other way round as the Arrahasis epic related.’

Genesis, in other words, is putting a new spin on old tales.  The outline of the events is similar, but the theological message profoundly different.  Indeed, the message of Genesis 1 forms the foundation for much that follows later in the Bible: the unity of God (Mk 12:29); divine sovereignty (Jn 1:3); humankind as God’s image (1 Cor 11:7); God’s love for humankind (Jn 3:16).  ‘The opening chapters of Genesis provide us with the spectacles to read the rest of Scripture with the right presuppositions.’

‘Preaching from difficult texts’, in Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian preaching, ed Kent, et al.  Pages 220-222)

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