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Toward an Exegetical Theology of Genesis 1:1-2a

Dr. Paul A. Thompson


Introduction
Having considered several possible passages, I decided to begin at the beginning.
Chapter 3 Section II in Childs book further encouraged my desire to delve into the passage. The
witness, one of Childs favorite words, of the text reveals Gods desire to make Himself known
to us and to answer that very basic question of Where do we come from? Walter C. Kaiser
Jr.s format will be used to work toward understanding the text. The challenge can be summed
up in Pauls words to the Romans in Romans 11:33, Oh the depth of the riches both of the
wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His
ways! The more you dig, the more you find.
Contextual Analysis
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and
void.
The first phrase introduces us to chapter one of Genesis, the account of creation. The
verses that follow are built upon the beginning statement, God created. Versed 3-31 explain
what and when. The beginning theme is carried throughout the book. The beginning of sin in
Gen 3:6, the beginning of Gods redemption plan tucked in the shadows of 3:15, a rebeginning
after the flood, and the beginning of covenant promises in Chapter 9. We see the beginning of a
called-out people of God through Abraham. A covenant promise of blessing not just for
Abraham, but also through Abraham to all nations in Genesis 9:1-3, the beginning or preparation
of God revealing His power as Abrahams descendants follow Joseph to Egypt. Genesis
concludes with a prophetic beginning for the twelve sons and two grandsons of Jacob in Chapter
49.
Genesis 1:1-2a bears witness to the God of all creation who desires a relationship with
those He created in His image. Aspects of Gods creative power permeate the rest of Scripture.
It is poetically shared in Job and the Psalms (See Job 38 and Psalm 19). References to creation
are a prophetic comfort in Isaiah 40-65. In Mark 10:6 Jesus uses the creation account in His
argument concerning divorce. John 1:1-3 echoes Genesis 1:1. Paul speaks of the creation of
the world in Romans 1:20. Peter expresses a similar thought in 2 Peter 3:4, and we find Gods
creation as a beginning thought in Revelation 3:14. Gods act of creation is made reference to
throughout His revelation to us. In History, Poetry, Prophecy, the Gospels, the Letters, and in
Apocalyptic literature, He is the God of creation.
Historical/Cultural Analysis (The author, culture and audience)
Moses had long been the assigned writer of the Book. Jesus makes numerous references
to the commands and writings of Moses. In John 7:22, Jesus refers to Moses and circumcision as
a sign of the covenant given in Genesis 17. With the development of Higher Criticism,
discussion on the P documents and the J tradition, Genesis is viewed by many scholars as a
compilation of stories borrowed from various cultures and may not have been through its final
redaction until the time of Ezra, when they say Genesis Chapter 1 was added. Though that
invites interesting discussion, for the purposes of this paper we will follow the historic tradition
that it is a record given to Moses by God. It may well be a part of the record of the writings of

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Moses placed in the Ark of the Covenant in Deuteronomy 31:24-26. The date of its writing is
around 1440 BCE.
Moses was well educated in all the learning of the Egyptians and he was a man of power
in words and deeds. (Acts 7:22) He was raised in Pharaohs court. At age 40 he fled to the
desert and was a nomadic herdsman for 40 years. He had a personal encounter with God at the
burning bush in Exodus 3, and was used of God to demonstrate Gods power and to deliver
Gods people out of bondage. Moses is said by God to be My friend in Isaiah 41:8, indicating
a close relationship with the Lord. He also appears with Elijah at the transfiguration of Jesus in
Matthew 17, so one would expect a writing that reflects an intimacy with God and an
understanding of Gods awesome power and holiness. The surrounding cultures carry similar
stories of creation, a great flood, and developing nations. Family, clans and heritage were
common cultural traits. These are reflected in the writings of Moses. The first audience would
have been the people of God in the wilderness of Sinai. But our text begins at the beginning and
is intended for all who wonder how it all began.
Syntactical Analysis
Genesis is a historical narrative. The opening verses introduce a series of paragraphs
which reveal Gods creative process. The creative acts are divided by the beginning phrase,
God said, and concludes with there was morning and evening [first, second, third, etc.] day.
1:1-2a Syntactical Display
In beginning

God
created
heavens
earth
formless
void
Verbal Analysis
Word Studies
reshith beginning, chief; first step in a course of events; first; the

initiation of a series of events; first fruits which belong to God.

bara to create, to make, used 49 times in the Old Testament, always


refers to Gods ability to create in the qal tense. Never used of
human creativity.
asa to do or make is always used for what
we can do. Ex 32:23 make a god for us, or all the things made
for the tabernacle in Ex 26. Bara indicates the ability to create out
of nothing. Asah is to manipulate what is already available.
Elohim God(s), the plural for El or Elha, similar word in Aramean.
Other cultures use the plural for multiple gods; only Hebrew uses
the plural for one God. The Theological Wordbook of the Old

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Testament(Harris, Ardow, & Walthe) defines it as a majestic


plural. God is so great the singular form is too limited for a God
who is holy, holy, holy. The word does not prove, but allows for
one God who is so remarkable in His being that He will describe
himself in three persons yet one Essence, one God.
Shamayim heavens, the sky, the area above the earth plural form in
Gen 1:1. Some see three heavenly realms: atmosphere surrounding
the earth; stars, planets and universe; and Gods dwelling place. It
is what God created that isnt the earth. Two separate pieces of
Gods creative puzzle. We are of earth, created for the earth, bound
to the earth. Even in our miniscule attempts to breach the heavens
we must take a little piece of earth, oxygen, with us or perish.
Erets earth, ground, land, dust, territories, or country; always tied

to our physical planet; the ball of dirt we live on


tohu formless, desolate, wasteland, chaos, or futile; only found here and
in Jeremiah 4:23; idea of uninhabitable.

bohu or vohu emptiness or void; used 3 times in the Old Testament,


Jeremiah 4:23 being one of them.
Authors Meaning
Though the author is Moses, the message is from God. God is the powerful Creator who
desires to reveal Himself to us and to answer our basic questions of life: Where did I come from?
Why am I here? What is my purpose? Genesis 1:1-2a begins the story. It begins with God. It
parallels Johns message in John 1:1-3, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with
God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by
Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John agrees with
Moses. God is our Creator. Verse one simply states the beginning.
Verse two has generated much controversy. There is not room to cover the details, but it
seems that the intent of the author is to let us know that God chose to create the world we live in
in stages over a time period of about six days. The without form and void phrase is
specifically about the earth, not a universe in chaos. When compared with Jeremiah 4:23, the
idea is a land that is desolate and not able or ready to sustain life. From this material God will
make a remarkable place for human beings to live. The earth was desolate and uninhabitable. It
did not become that way. Childs ties the phrase back to verse one, concluding that the
compound heavens and earth never has the meaning of disorderly chaos, but always of an
orderly world.(Bibliotheca Saca Sept. 1992) However, verse 2 is specifically speaking of the
earth. God has made places desolate and uninhabitable. If God had created a full, complete and
habitable earth in verse one, Genesis 1:3-37 would make no sense. Even in our own creativity
we begin with the raw materials and develop our project from there. The grammar, Gods use of
the wow consecutive, and multiple other reasons indicate that God chose to make building
material and then, in six days, gave us this wondrous place to inhabit. He did this so we could
have a relationship with Him, to learn of Him and to worship and enjoy Him forever.
Theological Analysis
The purpose of the author blends into the theological meaning of the text. However, the
theological value of Genesis 1:1-2a cannot be overstated. The truth that we worship the God who

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created, who spoke into existence all that we enjoy, is hard for our finite minds to surround. As
was stated in the section on the Contextual Analysis, God as Creator is woven throughout the
fabric of Gods entire revelation of Himself. To discount Genesis 1:1 is to discount Gods
revelation of who He is, including the parallel in John 1:1 and the revelation of His Son.
Understanding God, His purpose and our purpose begins in the beginning.
Homiletical Analysis
There is a beginning, a starting point, a place from where everything flows. And that
beginning is God.
I.
We see God revealed as the Starting Point
II.
We see God revealed as the Unique Creator
III.
We see God as one we should worship and be touched with awe as we
consider the God of all creation
Conclusion
To begin to dig into the Word of God, which in itself is an amazing statement, is to see
life breathed into the verbal plenary inspiration phrase from Seminary days. The words chosen
by God to begin His revelation of Himself to us have a depth I never fully considered or
understood. The God who created the heavens and the earth chose a specific word for created
and consistently used it 49 other times in His message to us just to let us know something unique
about who He is. And that is only the beginning. I am drawn back to where I began, joining the
Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33, O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His way!

2010 Paul A. Thompson

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