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Rod Staton

Genesis to Joshua 8OT508 Genesis 1:1-2


Gods Polemic to the Nations

10/29/2009

All Scripture verses are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version., Gen 1:1-2 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

Staton 2 Thesis Gods written revelation of Himself to mankind begins with this simple statement from Genesis 1:1-2: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. In these two verses, God puts to rest any ideas that people of the Ancient Near East (ANE) may have had about creation, including questions regarding the number of gods, the power these so-called gods had and the eternal existence of matter. That moderns, including Christians, try to make this text say more or less than what it does indicates our arrogance (For who has known the mind of the Lord ? Rom 11:34). Our attempts to know what the Lord has deemed not to reveal (The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever Deut 29:29) must always end in vain speculation. The mystery of divine creativity is, of course, ultimately unknowable. The Genesis narrative does not seek to make intelligible what is beyond human ken.1 It is my thesis that these two verses are not intended to be taken as more, or less, than God declaring to Israel and an unbelieving world that He is the Maker of all that exists, including time and space, and he shapes the life of his world to achieve his ends for the earth and its inhabitants.2 God is attacking the various creation accounts in the ANE, not putting forth a scientific hypothesis and then presenting proofs to support that hypothesis; nor is He just giving a history lesson (although it is indeed a historical account). He is destroying the various creation

Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 1st ed. (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989), 2.

Staton 3 myths extant at the time and for all times, including our current mythologies. In Gen 1:1-2, along with the rest of the creation account, the quintessential teaching is that the universe is wholly the purposeful product of divine intelligence, that is, of the one self-sufficient, self-existing God, who is a transcendent Being outside of nature and who is sovereign over space and time.3 Proofs Modern man makes assumptions about the world that are completely different from those of the second millennium B.C.4 In order to understand what the first two verses of Genesis are saying to us, we need to first know what they meant to the ancient Israelites. Hermeneutically, it is incumbent upon us to understand the Genesis account of origins in the context of its own world, for it is against the backdrop of the ancient environment that its powerful and distinctive message can be heard most clearly.5 In the ANE there were other cosmologies that Moses and the nation of Israel would have been familiar with. Having been raised and educated in Pharaohs household, Moses would have had unique access to the ancient Near Eastern myths and almost certainly was acquainted with them, for the archaeological evidence shows they were widely circulated.6 He, therefore, probably knew of the god Atum, who was the divine source of all matter7, found in the Egyptian Coffin Texts. It appears that Atum evolved from some eternal primordial matter (the

Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1- 11:26, First Edition. (B&H Publishing Group, 1996), 60. 3 Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, 2. 4 Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15, vol. 1 (Thomas Nelson, 1987), xvl. 5 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 101. 6 Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan, 2007), 199.

Staton 4 Waters) and that from him Shu (Life) and Tefnut (Order) were created, who then went on to create the multiplicity of life.8 In several places in the Coffin texts, it is recorded that Shu was the begetter of repeated millions out of the Flood, out of the Waters, out of darkness, out of lostness.9 These terms give the impression of a primordial matter in disorder. He also was the one who made possible the skys brilliance after the Darkness.10 Moses, along with the rest of ancient Israel, would also have been familiar with the Enuma Elish from Babylon/Mesopotamia. This myth about the rise of Marduk and his battle to become the king of the gods gives us a Babylonian perspective on the Creation. Both Apsu and Tiamat, the original two gods and primordial matter are pre-existent. Marduk forms the heaven and earth from the corpse of one of the original gods, Tiamat, who he has defeated in battle and then forms man from the blood of one of the other gods who had sided with Tiamat.11 In the first nine verses of tablet one, heaven and the netherworld have no names, which (A)ccording to the conceptions of the ancient Near East . . . was equivalent to nonexistence.12 The waters are mingling together and (N)o cane brake was intertwined nor thicket matted close. When no gods at all had been brought forth, (N)one called by names, none destinies ordained,13 all of which gives the impression again of the primordial matter in disorder. It is with this worldview in mind that we should read the Creation account in Genesis, in order to get the message that the Lord intended for His fledgling nation and apply it to our times.
7

William W. Hallo, The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, 2nd ed. (Pilgrim Press, 1997), 7. 8 Ibid., 11. 9 Ibid., 10. 10 Ibid., 11. 11 Ibid., 391-401. 12 Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, 7. 13 Hallo, The Context of Scripture, 391.

Staton 5 Israel had been called to come out of a polytheistic culture that looked at the creation as being formed from eternal matter by eternal gods. Gen 1 is a deliberate statement of (the) Hebrew view of creation over against rival views. It is not merely a demythologization of oriental creation myths, whether Babylonian or Egyptian; rather it is a polemical repudiation of such myths.14 Today, with the widespread acceptance of evolution as truth, the New Age worship of Gaia (Mother Earth)15, UFOs and extraterrestrials16, not to mention the proliferation of cults and false religions, the need for a clear message regarding creation is just as important as it was then. With the very first verse of Genesis, God begins to destroy the false gods for the ancient Israelites and for us. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth is the beginning of history. The Hebrew preposition (b-)", meaning in, joined to the Hebrew word ( , which means what is first, the beginning, i.e., the initiation of an action, process, or

state of being (Ps 111:10); 2. LN 67.65-67.72 the beginning, first of time, i.e., a point of time which is the beginning (non prior) in a duration,17 seems to me to indicate simply that a beginning was. This began time and space, so that the Israelites, as well as us, are pointedly informed . . . that He (God) is wholly outside of time, just as He is outside of space, both of which He proceeds to create.18 God makes clear that He is not part of the creation as were the gods of the pagans. The term ( ), which means God or gods, is a plural noun which is almost

always used with singular verbs, pronouns and adjectives when referring to the True God of
14 15

Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, 9. Gaia, http://www.earthwitchery.com/gaia.html. 16 The Bible UFO Connection, http://www.bibleufo.com. 17 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), 2nd ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), sec. 8040. 18 Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, 5.

Staton 6 Israel. It can also be used to refer to pagan deities. The plural form may be used to ascribe honor or majesty to God.19 The word itself, though plural, only refers to one entity and probably should not be understood as implying the doctrine of the Trinity. The ancient Israelites wouldnt have and neither should we. It is just the regular word used in Genesis for God. Also in this chapter is a more appropriate word to use than (the Lord): it implies that God is the sovereign creator of the whole universe, not just Israels personal God.20 We also see here the absence of the idea that God was in any way a part of the creation. There is no explanation of how God came into existence as was the case in the pagan mythologies. There is no beginning to God, and by inference, no end. His eternal existence is stated as fact, as reality to be accepted. He is neither equivalent to the material world and its processes nor subservient to them. The material world is not an extension of his Being (not divine), and the world is not a living ontological Being.21 (b ) is the Hebrew word meaning to create, i.e., make something that has not been in existence before.22 This verb in the qal form is reserved in the Old Testament for Gods activity only. It only refers to that which is made, never referring to the composition of the product. It does not, however, technically mean creation ex nihilo or creation out of nothing. This idea of creation out of nothing is implied in Genesis1:1-2, as well as other parts of Scripture (Ps 148:5; Prov 8:2227, for example), because there is no mention of any material used contrary to the other ANE cosmologies. The declaration of v. 1 without any intimation of competing

19 20

Mathews, The New American Commentary, 127. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, 14. 21 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 60. 22 Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 1343.

Staton 7 preexisting matter is so distinctive from its ancient counterparts that we must infer that all things have their ultimate origin in God as Creator.23 The heavens and the earth is a merism meaning simply the universe. The Hebrew words form a unit: ( yi w- ) total creation, formally, heaven and earth, i.e., the whole or totality of what God created.24 Bruce Waltke explains: (I)n all its uses in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 2:1, 4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 65:17; Jer. 23:24), this phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.25 Genesis 1:1 seems to me to be a reduction or summary of Gods creative activity which is expanded and explained in detail from Genesis 1:2-2:3. It is saying that there is only one true God, He has always been and that He created the cosmos from nothing in sharp contrast to the pagan mythologies which claimed many gods who were coexistent and coeternal with the primordial material from which they made all things. Genesis 1:2 states The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. These two sentences begin the details of creation, with a description of the earth in its untouched form before God fashions it a fitting habitat for mankind. Here the Hebrew for earth ( ( )) is the same as in verse 1, but on its own means simply world, earth, i.e., the surface of the earth, where humankind lives; 2. land, ground, i.e., a dry surface in contrast to bodies of water.26

23 24

Mathews, The New American Commentary, 129. Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 824. 25 Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan, 2001), 59. 26 Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 824.

Staton 8 Without form and void is the state of the earth immediately after it is created. ( ) means formlessness, emptiness, i.e., a state of empty space and so nothingness, so not having a shape, implied to be a state prior to order and form; 2. wasteland, i.e., what is barren and void of use, as tracts of unpopulated land.27 A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament also defines it as a wasteland.28 ( b ) means emptiness, the void, i.e., an emptiness that shows lack of order,29 or simply void or waste.30 It is always associated with ( ).31 According to David Tsumura, this syntagm refers to the earth as an empty place, i.e. an
unproductive and uninhabited place.32 Darkness was over the face of the deep. ( ) is the Hebrew word for darkness and means simply the lack of light in a space.33 In the Bible darkness sometimes implies evil, but it is also associated with God as in Isaiah 45:7, which states that God created darkness and Psalm 18:11, where God covers Himself with darkness (see also Deut 4:11 and 5:23). Darkness is a way of saying that the earth was inhospitable to life.34 ( tehm) which is the Hebrew for deep means an area below the surface of bodies of water, a dark, inaccessible, inexhaustible, and mysterious place controlled only by objects with vast powers.35

27 28

Ibid., sec. 9332. William Lee Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 386. 29 Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 983. 30 Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 34. 31 Ibid., 34. 32 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 59. 33 Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 3125. 34 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 60. 35 Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), sec. 9333.

Staton 9
This is the cosmic abyssal water that enveloped the earth.36 It probably indicates that the earth was in a fluid, or liquid, or a molten form.37 It does not indicate a separate entity, but is a part of the earth. Genesis is indicating that the waters, or deep, are creations under Gods control.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, that is, presiding over the earth and preparing it for the creative word to follow.38 The word (p), translated hovering, is also used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to describe an eagle protecting its young. In Genesis 1:2, (T)he Spirit is depicted as a living Being, who hovers over the created Earth like a bird.39 God is watching over His creation, ready to bring it to fruition. As Bruce Waltke states, (H)overing eaglelike over the primordial abyss, the almighty Spirit prepares the earth for human habitation.40 Refutation The Tanakh renders Genesis 1:1-2: When God began to create heaven and earth2the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.41 With this interpretation comes the presupposition that the earth was already in existence. Preexistent material could mean material that was coeternal with God as it did in the pagan mythologies. There are several versions of the Bible that use this interpretation, including the NRSV and the NEB. This is done when verse one is taken to be a dependent

36 37

Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, 6. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary CD - 77 Print Volumes (Logos Bible Software), 4. 38 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 135. 39 E. J. Young, The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - Defense, A. Allison Lewis Workshop Selections, December 26, 1998, http://www.christianbeliefs.org/books/genesis/gen-2b.html. 40 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 60. 41 Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures--The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text, 1st ed. (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985).

Staton 10 statement, instead of independent, and verse two is taken to be either the main statement or a parenthetical statement with the main statement in verse three.42 There are good explanations of why this is not the best translation based on how the verb (b ) is rendered (see Young, T e Re a ion of e 1s Ve se of Genesis 1 o Verses 2 and 3), but for my purposes I will use

Bruce Waltkes brief, but to the point, statement that (b ) refers to the completed act of creation.43 There have been commentators who claim that without form and void refers to a chaotic state that had come about from the ruin of a previous creation.44 The phrase ( ) and ( b ) doesnt necessarily imply chaos, in the sense of confusion or turmoil, just that the earth
was uninhabitable and inhospitable45 to man. It is not producing life. This can be seen in Jeremiah 4:2326, where the prophet announces that the land will be a desolation, after Gods judgment, with clear references to the creation. Isaiah 34:11 describes desolate ( ) and empty (b ) Edom, which as

a desert place becomes unfit for habitation and hence absent of life, except that of the desert fowl.46

Spirit, Hebrew (ra), can also be translated wind. If it is used here as wind and is used as a superlative to indicate a mighty wind, which is a possibility, it takes away may occur as the superlative

any theological or religious meaning of the text. Though

in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 23:6; Jonah 3:3), its recurring use in Genesis 1 (thirty-five times)

42

E. J. Young, The Relation of the 1st Verse of Genesis 1 to Verses 2 and 3, A. Allison Lewis Workshop Selections, December 25, 1998, http://www.christianbeliefs.org/books/genesis/gen1.html. 43 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 58. 44 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 140-144; Spence and Exell, Pulpit Commentary CD - 77 Print Volumes, 4. 45 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 131. 46 Ibid., 132.

Staton 11 as the divine name would argue for taking it here also as God.47 Waltke says that translating ra as Spirit better fits the context.48 E. J. Young states that Moses, had he wanted, could have used a different expression to indicate a mighty wind and concludes the traditional translation, "Spirit of God", is accurate, whereas the proposed substitution, "a mighty wind", is not.49 Finally, some would make the claim that Genesis 1:1 could not be a summary statement of the creation account that follows.50 It is argued that the merism heavens and earth which in every other Old Testament use means the organized universe, cant mean that here. This claim is based on the belief that without form and void means . . . the earth in a negative state, a chaos of elements, which is opposed to creation.51 This is not necessarily the case as I have shown. As
Tsumura stated, this syntagm refers to the earth as an empty place, i.e. an unproductive and uninhabited place.52 The negative state of the earth is just the inability to produce life.53

Conclusion Genesis 1:1-2 is God declaring to Israel and an unbelieving world that there are no other gods than Him; nothing existed outside of Him and He did not have to battle anyone or anything else to become the Creator. Polytheistic accounts of creation always begin with the predominance of the divinized powers of nature and then describe in detail a titanic struggle between the opposing forces. They inevitably regard the achievement of world order as the outgrowth of an overwhelming exhibition of power on the part of one god who then manages to

47 48

Ibid., 136. Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 60. 49 Young, The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - Defense. 50 Mathews, The New American Commentary, 140-143. 51 Ibid., 140. 52 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 59. 53 Ibid., 60.

Staton 12 impose his will upon all other gods.54 The theological significance of this was not lost on the ancient reader who recognized its polemical undertones regarding pagan cosmogonies. 55 We, as Christians, need to take this to heart and quit trying to accommodate the Biblical presentation of creation with evolution or any other theory of beginnings. We must say, with Moses and the ancient Israelites, in the beginning, God created.

54 55

Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, 2. Mathews, The New American Commentary, 137.

Staton 13 Bibliography
Gaia. http://www.earthwitchery.com/gaia.html. Hallo, William W. The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World. 2nd ed. Pilgrim Press, 1997. Holladay, William Lee. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972. Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary: Genesis 1- 11:26. First Edition. B&H Publishing Group, 1996. Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989. Spence, H. D. M., and Joseph S. Exell. Pulpit Commentary CD - 77 Print Volumes. Logos Bible Software. Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). 2nd ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures--The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985. The Bible UFO Connection. http://www.bibleufo.com/. Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan, 2001. Waltke, Bruce K., and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Zondervan, 2007. Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15. Vol. 1. Thomas Nelson, 1987. Young, E. J. The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - Defense. A. Allison Lewis Workshop Selections, December 26, 1998. http://www.christianbeliefs.org/books/genesis/gen-2b.html. ---. The Relation of the 1st Verse of Genesis 1 to Verses 2 and 3. A. Allison Lewis Workshop Selections, December 25, 1998. http://www.christianbeliefs.org/books/genesis/gen-1.html.