Old Testament Study – Creation Defined

Old Testament Study – Creation Defined

So what does Genesis teach us about the doctrine of creation? Before we can attempt to answer this question we must come to some understanding of the definition of creation. The primary meaning of
‘creation’ as used in Scripture is something as follows: ‘to bring into existence that which had no existence. To make something out of nothing.’ This is the biblical doctrine of ‘creatio ex nihilo’.

But there is also a secondary sense in which the word is used by biblical authors – the act of forming something out of materials which are by their nature inadequate for or inferior to the final product.  The best example of this second sense is the creation of man from the dust of the earth. Man, the most beautiful creation of God and the crowning achievement of his work, is formed from mud and dirt and dust; hardly materials that would be considered adequate to the task.

There are, of course, many implications for this theological conception of creatio ex nihilo. Most importantly, it means that the physical universe along with all it contains is dependent for its existence on God. Additionally, we learn from this doctrine that the material world is not some entity or eternal principle which wages war without end against God, and that it is neither eternal nor self-sufficient. It had a beginning and – according to Scripture – will one day come to an end.

We should also introduce here another theological expression, the Latin phrase ‘ad extra’. Theologians coined this term to signify that God created the universe outside of or external to himself. This is in direct contrast to an ancient philosophical concept known as pantheism which says that God and the universe are one, that God is in nature and nature is God. Pantheistic notions lie at the heart of much Buddhist thought, of many animistic beliefs which worship nature or portions of nature, and may even be found in some forms of liberal Christian theology which argue that the Spirit of God is in every man and in every thing.

Thus, the Christian doctrine of creation insists that God created the universe from nothing, simply by speaking it into existence, and that he created it external to himself. God is in the world, but the world is not God, just as I am sitting in this room while remaining distinct and separate from it.


Next, then, let us take a look at the seven days of creation.  The accounts may be found in the first chapters of Genesis. Briefly, their outline runs as follows: On the first day, God created light.  On the second day, he created a division between the sky (or ‘heavens’) and the earth. Dry land and vegetables he created on the
third day, and then heavenly bodies (the sun, moon and stars) on the fourth. On day five he created birds and fishes, and finally animals and man on the sixth day. On the seventh day God rested from his labors.

One difficulty many have had with a literal interpretation of the Genesis accounts is that of reconciling the creation of light on the second day and of ‘lights’ (the sun, moon and stars) later. On this I have recently encountered some interesting observations which I’ll pass on to you. You can take them for what they’re worth.

When we look at the accounts of creation, with the exception of the problem between the creation of light and the creation of the heavenly lights, there is a certain logical sequence within the creation accounts: first we see the creation of the heavens and the earth, then the division of land and sea, followed by the creation of that which functions on land – i.e. vegetable life – then progressing to birds and fishes, and finally from that to man.

It is interesting to note, however, another possible relationship in the accounts. In the first day of the creation era we have the creation of light, while on the fourth day we have the creation of lights. On the second day comes the division between earth and sky, while the fifth day finds the creation of that which lives in earth and sky – birds and fish. The third day sees the appearance of dry land, and the sixth day that which inhabits the dry land – animals and man. And finally, on the seventh day, God rested.

This is yet another way of saying we seem to have an exact sequence here. First, God creates light in a situation which the biblical accounts declare is formless and void, with darkness on the face of the deep. Later, the sun, moon and stars are created to reflect the light which God had earlier created as a principle. Or, on the other hand, it may be that what we have is not an exact sequence, but more of a literary construction which is simply intended to say that God created the world orderly and in its proper sequence
without really intending to set forth exactly what that sequence is.  This latter position is not a new hypothesis, being the position taken by St. Augustine as early as the fourth century AD.

As we look at this outline of the seven days there are a number of points which may be made about creation. First, there are certain limits employed. Throughout the description the Genesis author uses
the word ‘day’. We need to be very careful about our understanding of this word, as the Bible uses it to refer to many things. In Genesis 1:5,14, for example, the word is used first to refer to a period of light in distinction to darkness, while later on in verse 5 it is used again to refer to both light and darkness together – one 24 hour period. It is also used in this second sense in verses 5, 8 and 13.

But if we turn to Genesis 2:4 we read ‘This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.’ (NASB) This time ‘day’ is used to refer
to the entire creation era. In passages such as Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 10:6 ‘day’ means something like ‘modern times’. 1 Corinthians 1:8 talks about the ‘day of Jesus Christ’, there referring to the entire 33 years he walked the earth. And passages such as Malachi 4:5 and Amos 5:18-20 speak of the ‘day of the Lord’ in reference to some future cataclysmic event.

All this doesn’t begin to exhaust the variety of ways in which Scripture employs the word ‘day’. The point is that, just as in English today, the word had a multiplicity of meanings.  So what does the Bible mean when it says, for example, that on the first day God created light? I’m going to leave this question open for the moment and will only pause to say that many argue that it means a literal, definite 24 hour period of time, while others claim it is referring to geological or evolutionary periods many thousands or even millions of years long. We will simply note for now that what we see in the biblical accounts is successive periods of time in which various aspects of the universe were created.

The second limitation the creation accounts impose is found in the word ‘kind’. In Genesis 1:21 we read ‘So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.’ Again in verse 24 ‘God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.”‘ And elsewhere we find similar statements as well.

As with the word ‘day’ we find here that we are dealing with an imprecise word. Though we cannot tell exactly what it means, one effect it does seem to have is to restrict the limits of creation to that of, say, speciation; in contradistinction to modern evolutionary thought which sees all life, in all its forms, emerging from a single, simple primordial life form, the biblical account seems to see life as having existed within various categories or species from the beginning.

In any summary of the doctrine of creation one must note that there is something unique about the creation of man. Not only was man the final creation, but it is man alone of all creation the account declares fashioned in the image of God.

There is yet a fourth item that must be noted: In Genesis 1:9 we read the account of the creation of land and sea, which concludes with ‘And God saw that it was good.’ In verse 12, in summarizing the creation of plant life, we read ‘And God saw that it was good. Again, the account in vs. 18 of the creation of the heavenly bodies ends with ‘And God saw that it was good.’ And we find the same statement after the creation of sea life (verse 21) and land-roving animals (verse 25). Yet, at the conclusion of the chapter we find that God looked back and ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’

What’s the significance of this? As each stage of creation is completed, God pronounces it good. But in verse 31, as God surveys all that he has made, everything functioning properly and in order, he declares it ‘very good’. What is meant by ‘good’? Certainly it may be taken to mean many things, but contained within the concept are certainly ideas of harmony, purpose, usefulness and moral good, together with the realization that nothing was inherently harmful or painful. This is at least a part of what was noted in the discussion on the world view of the biblical writers: that they saw the world as created good.

And a final comment on the biblical data for the doctrine of creation: the universe was created to exist under the control of God.  God had no intention of being a sort of cosmological absentee landlord, but rather created the universe to operate optimally under his divine guidance and control.

Calvin Culver

Computers for Christ – Chicago