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Genesis 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
רֵאשִׁית reshith the beginning, first of time, i.e., a point of time which is the beginning (non prior) in a duration (Ge 1:1). This word can represent a point of departure, as it does in Gen. 1:1 (the first occurrence): “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The most important use of rēʾšît in the ot occurs in Gen 1:1 where it is combined with the proclitic preposition b (q.v.). There has been a great deal of debate over this use of rēʾšît. Many commentators both ancient and modern have tried to read the phrase as “when-” rather than “in the beginning” as do several modern versions. The chief modern justification for this interpretation of the root is to relate it to the phrase “enūma eliš” which begins the Babylonian epic of creation. However, there is no evidence to connect the two different terms, the one in Hebrew and the other in Babylonian (see White, W., “Enuma Elish,” in ZPEB, II, p. 314). The proper interpretation of rēʾšît can be deduced from the other occurrences and the witness of all ancient versions. The NT (Jn 1:1) translates the Hebrew and follows the LXX precisely in its reading of (Gen 1:1) the first phrase of the OT. The use of this root leaves no doubt that Gen 1:1 opens with the very first and initial act of the creation of the cosmos.
בָּרָא bara create, i.e., make something that has not been in existence before (Ge 1:1). This verb is of profound theological significance since it has only God as its subject. Only God can “create” in the sense implied by bara˒. The verb expresses creation out of nothing, an idea seen clearly in passages having to do with creation on a cosmic scale: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; cf. Gen. 2:3; Isa. 40:26; 42:5). All other verbs for “creating” allow a much broader range of meaning; they have both divine and human subjects and are used in contexts where bringing something or someone into existence is not the issue.
אֱלֹהִים elohim God. God, i.e., the true God, note: though the form is a grammatical plural, the meaning is singular and many sources think implies a majesty or stateliness (Ge 1:1). The Hebrew word elohim (gods) appears to be from a root meaning “be strong.” Elohim is the plural of elohah (god). Sometimes this plural refers to a number of gods (Ge 31:30, 32; 35:2), but more often, it is used as a plural of majesty, dignity, or excellence. Elohim is used in the Scriptures with reference to God himself, to angels, to idol gods (singular and plural), and to men. When applying to Jehovah, Elohim is used as a plural of majesty, dignity, or excellence. (Ge 1:1) Regarding this, Aaron Ember wrote: “That the language of the O[ld] T[estament] has entirely given up the idea of plurality in . . . [Elohim] (as applied to the God of Israel) is especially shown by the fact that it is almost invariably construed with a singular verbal predicate and takes a singular adjectival attribute. . . . [Elohimʹ] must rather be explained as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to The Great God.”—The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. XXI, 1905, p. 208.
Its direct use is either proper or improper, according to the object to which it is applied. Every instance of its proper use manifestly determines its meaning to be the Eternal, the Almighty, who is himself without beginning and has within himself the power of causing other things, personal and impersonal, to be, and on this event is the sole object of reverence and primary obedience to his intelligent creation.
Its improper use arose from man’s lapse into false notions of the object of worship. Many real or imaginary beings came to be regarded as possessed of the attributes and therefore entitled to the reverence belonging to Deity. Consequently, they were called gods by their religions and by others who had occasion to speak of them. This usage at once proves it to be a common noun and corroborates its proper meaning. When thus employed, however, it immediately loses most of its inherent grandeur and sometimes dwindles down to the bare notion of the supernatural or the extramundane. In this manner it seems to be applied by the witch of Endor to the unexpected apparition that presented itself to her (1 Sam. 28:13).
Its indirect applications point with equal steadiness to this primary and fundamental meaning. Thus, it is employed in a relative and well-defined sense to denote one appointed of God to stand in a certain divine relation to another. This relation is that of an authoritative revealer or administrator of the will of God. Thus, we are told (John 10:34) that “he called them gods, to whom the word of God came.” Thus, Moses became related to Aaron as God to his prophet (Exod. 4:16), and Pharaoh as God to his creature (Exod. 7:1). Accordingly, in Ps. 82:6, we find this principle generalized: “I had said, gods are ye, and sons of the Highest all of you.” Here the divine authority vested in Moses is expressly recognized in those who sit in Moses’ seat as judges for God. They exercised a function of God among the people and so were in God’s stead to them. Man, indeed, was originally adapted for ruling, being made in the image of God, and commanded to have dominion over the inferior creatures. The parent also is instead of God in some respect to his children, and the sovereign holds the relation of the patriarch to his subjects. Still, however, we are not fully warranted in translating אֱלֹהִים judges in Exod. 21:6, 22:7, 8, 27 (8, 9, 28) because a more easy, exact and impressive sense is obtained from the proper rendering.
The word מַלְאָךְ angel, as a relative or official term, is sometimes applied to a person of the Godhead; but the process is not reversed. The Seventy indeed translate אֱלֹהִים in several instances by ἄγγελοι (Ps. 8:6; 97:7; 138:1). The correctness of this is seemingly supported by the quotations in Heb. 1:6. and 2:7. These, however, do not imply that the renderings are absolutely correct, but only sufficiently so for the purpose of the writer. And it is evident they are so, because the original is a highly imaginative figure by which a class is conceived to exist, of which in reality only one of the kind is or can be. Now the Seventy, either imagining, from the occasional application of the official term ‘angel’ to God, that the angelic office somehow or sometimes involved the divine nature, or viewing some of the false gods of the heathen as really angels, and therefore seemingly wishing to give a literal turn to the figure, substituted the word ἄγγελοι as an interpretation for אֱלֹהִים. This free translation was sufficient for the purpose of the inspired apostle Paul in the epistle to the Hebrews since the worship of all angels (Heb. 1:6) in the Septuagint sense of the term was that of the highest rank of dignitaries under God; and the argument in the latter passage (Heb. 2:7) turns not on the words, “thou made him a little lower than the angels,” but upon the sentence, “you have put all things under his feet.” Moreover, the Seventy are by no means consistent in this rendering of the word in similar passages (see Ps. 82:1, 97:1; 1 Sam. 28:13).
Concerning the use of the word, it is to be observed that the plural of the Chaldee form is uniformly plural in sense. The English version of בָּר־אֱלָהִין the Son of God (Dan. 3:25) is the only exception to this. But as it is the phrase of a heathen, the real meaning may be a son of the gods. On the contrary, the plural of the Hebrew form is generally employed to denote the one, God. When applied to the true God, the singular form is naturally suggested by the prominent thought of his being the only one. The plural, when so applied, is generally accompanied by singular conjuncts and conveys the predominant conception of majesty, dignity, or excellence. (Ge 1:1) This will be discussed more below.
שָׁמַיִם shamayim 1. heaven, i.e., the realm of God where God abides, similar to the area of the sky, but with a focus of where God abides, sometimes describes as the upper regions above the upper sky (Ps 18:10[EB 9]); 2. atmosphere, i.e., the area of the stars, skies, air, as a region above the earth including the horizon (1Ki 18:45); 3. unit: שָׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם (šā·mǎ·yim šā·mǎ·yim) highest heaven, i.e., the very uppermost part of the sky, stars, and air (Dt 10:14); 4. unit: בַּיִן הַ־ שָׁמַיִם וְ־ בַּיִן הַ־ אֶרֶץ (bǎ·yin hǎ- šā·mǎ·yim w- bǎ·yin hǎ- ʾě·rěṣ) midair, formally, between the heavens and between the earth, i.e., an area of space just above the earth which has no base or support to set the feet (2Sa 18:9)
אֶרֶץ erets 1. world, earth, i.e., the surface of the earth, where humankind lives (Ge 1:28); 2. land, ground, i.e., a dry surface in contrast to bodies of water (Ge 1:10); 3. soil, dirt, i.e., the natural material of which the earth is made, some of which is suitable for planting (Lev 26:20); 4. country, region, territory, i.e., specific large areas of the earth where distinct cultures or kingdoms dwell (Ge 12:1); 5. people, i.e., a group or groups that live on the earth (Isa 37:18); 6. space, i.e., an area of any size, inside or outside (Eze 42:6).
The verb is in the perfect form, denoting a completed act. The adverbial note of time, “in the beginning,” determines it to belong to the past. To suit our idiom, it may be strictly rendered “had created.” The skies and the land are the universes divided into its two natural parts by an earthly spectator. The absolute beginning of time, and the creation of all things, mutually determine each other.
Genesis 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
This great introductory sentence of the book of God is equal in weight to the whole of its subsequent communications concerning the kingdom of nature. This opening verse of the Bible gives the reader two crucial truths. First, the “heavens and the earth,” or the physical universe, had a beginning. Second, “heavens and the earth” were created by God. (Rev. 4:11) The Bible does not give us an explicit time of how long ago God created the universe. We know that God did not create the material universe a few thousand years ago. Genesis 1:1 does not conflict with modern approximations that the universe is billions of years old. Referring to “in the beginning,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “The length or duration of the period is not specified by the term.” (Revised Edition, Volume I, page 51) Further, Genesis 1:1 does explain how God created it. Nevertheless, the Bible clarifies that he created the universe utilizing “his might and because he is strong in power.” (Isa. 40:26) The word “created” is translated from a Hebrew verb that is used exclusively to describe an activity God performs. Regarding this word, the HCSB Study Bible states: “In its active form the Hebrew verb bara’, meaning ‘to create,’ never has a human subject. Thus, bara’ signifies a work that is uniquely God’s.” (p. 7) In the Bible, only Jehovah God is referred to as the Creator. (Isa. 42:5; 45:18) This first verse of Genesis serves as an introduction to the creation account that is laid out in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Genesis 1:1 assumes the existence of God, for it is he who in the beginning creates. It assumes his eternity, for he is before all things: and as nothing comes from nothing, he himself must have always been. It implies his omnipotence, for he creates the universe of things. It implies his absolute freedom, for he begins a new course of action. It implies his infinite wisdom, for a kosmos, an order of matter and mind, can only come from a being of absolute intelligence. It implies his essential goodness; the Sole, Eternal, Almighty, All-wise, and All-sufficient Being has no reason, motive, or capacity for evil. It presumes him to be beyond all limits of time, matter, and space, as he is before all time, matter, and space.
It asserts the creation of the heavens and the earth; that is, of the universe of mind and matter. This creation is the omnipotent act of giving existence to things that before had no existence. This is the first great mystery of things, as the end is the second. Natural science observes things as they are when they have already laid hold of existence. It ascends into the past as far as observation will reach and penetrates into the future as far as experience will guide. But it does not touch the beginning or the end. This first sentence of revelation, however, records the beginning. At the same time, it involves the progressive development of that which is begun and so contains within its bosom the whole of what is revealed in the book of God. It is thus historical of the beginning and prophetical of the whole of time. It is, therefore, equivalent to all the rest of revelation taken together, which merely records the evolutions of one sphere of creation and nearly anticipates the end of present things.
This sentence assumes the being of God and asserts the beginning of things. Hence it intimates that the existence of God is more immediately patent to the reason of man than the creation of the universe. And this is agreeable to the philosophy of things, for the existence of God is a necessary and eternal truth, more and more self-evident to the intellect as it rises to maturity. But the beginning of things is, by its very nature, a contingent event, which once was not and then came to be contingent on the free will of the Eternal, and, therefore, not evident to reason itself, but made known to the understanding by testimony and the reality of things. This sentence is the testimony, and the actual world in us and around us is the reality. Faith takes account of the one, observation of the other.
It bears on the very face of it the indication that it was written by man, and for man; for it divides all things into the heavens and the earth. Such a division evidently suits those only who are inhabitants of the earth. Accordingly, this sentence is the foundation-stone of the history, not of the universe at large, of the sun, of any other planet, but of the earth and of man, its rational inhabitant. The primeval event which it records may be far distant, in point of time, from the next event in such a history. We have no intimation of the interval of time that elapsed between the beginning of things narrated in this prefatory sentence and that state of things that is announced in the following verse.
However, with no less clearness does it show that it was dictated by superhuman knowledge. For it records the beginning of things of which natural science can take no cognizance. Man observes certain laws of nature and, guided by these, may trace the current of physical events backward and forwards, but without being able to fix any limit to the course of nature in either direction. And not only this sentence but the main part of this and the following chapter communicates events that occurred before man made his appearance on the stage of things; and, therefore, before he could either witness or record them. And in harmony with all this, the whole volume is proved by the topics chosen, the revelations made, the views entertained, the ends contemplated, and the means of information possessed to be derived from a higher source than man.
This simple sentence denies atheism, for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good, and the other evil, for it confesses the one Eternal Creator. It denies materialism, for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism, for it assumes the existence of God before all things and apart from them. It denies fatalism, for it involves the freedom of the Eternal Being.
It indicates the relative superiority of the heavens to the earth by giving the former the first place in the order of words. It is thus in accordance with the first elements of astronomical science.
It is therefore pregnant with physical and metaphysical, with ethical and theological instruction for the first man, for the predecessors and contemporaries of Moses, and for all the succeeding generations of mankind.
This verse forms an integral part of the narrative and not a mere heading as some have imagined. This is abundantly evident for the following reasons: 1. It has the form of a narrative, not a superscription. 2. The conjunctive particle connects the second verse with it, which could not be if it were a heading. 3. The very next sentence speaks of the earth as already in existence, and therefore its creation must be recorded in the first verse. 4. In the first verse, the heavens take precedence of the earth, but in the following verses all things, even the sun, moon, and stars seem to be but appendages to the earth. Thus, if it were a heading, it would not correspond with the narrative. 5. If the first verse belongs to the narrative, order pervades the whole recital, whereas if it be a heading, the most hopeless confusion enters. Light is called into being before the sun, moon, and stars. The earth takes precedence over the heavenly luminaries. For any or all of these reasons, the first verse forms an introduction to the narrative.
As soon as it is settled that the narrative begins in the first verse, another question comes up for determination; namely, whether the heavens here mean the heavenly bodies that circle in their courses through the realms of space or the mere space itself which they occupy with their perambulations. It is manifest that the heavens here denote the heavenly orbs themselves for the following rational reasons: 1. Creation implies something created, and not mere space, which is nothing and cannot be said to be created. 2. As the earth here obviously means the substance of the planet we inhabit, the heavens must mean the substance of the celestial luminaries, the heavenly army of stars by a likeness of reason. 3. The heavens are placed before the earth, and therefore must mean that reality which is greater than the earth; for if they meant space, and nothing real, they ought not to be before the earth. 4. The heavens are actually mentioned in the verse and, therefore, must mean a real thing; if they meant nothing, they ought not to be mentioned. 5. The heavens must denote the heavenly realities because this imparts a rational order to the whole chapter; whereas an unaccountable derangement appears if the sun, moon, and stars do not come into existence till the fourth day, though the sun is the center of light and the measurer of the daily period. For any or all of these reasons, it is undeniable that the heavens in the first verse mean the fixed and planetary orbs of space; and, consequently, that these uncounted tenants of the skies, along with our own planet, are all declared to be in existence before the commencement of the six days’ creation.
Hence, it appears that the first verse records an event antecedent to those described in the subsequent verses. This is the absolute and aboriginal creation of the heavens and all that in them is, and of the earth in its primeval state. The former includes all those resplendent spheres which are spread before the wondering eye of man, as well as those hosts of planets and spiritual and angelic beings beyond the range of his natural vision. This brings a simple and unforced meaning out of the whole chapter and discloses a beauty and a harmony in the narrative which no other interpretation can afford. In this way the subsequent verses reveal a new effort of creative power, by which the pre-adamic earth, in the condition in which it appears in the second verse, is fitted up for the residence of a fresh animal creation, including the human race. The process is represented as it would appear to primeval man in his infantile simplicity, with whom his own position would naturally be the fixed point to which everything else was to be referred.
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- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
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- John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).
- John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
- Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
- Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Kindle Edition.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Chronology, Old Testament,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).