Genesis 1 - An Excerpt from South Asia Bible Commentary
Now available! The South Asia Bible Commentary is a one-volume commentary, written and edited by South Asian Biblical scholars on all the books of the Bible. Interact with these excerpts below from Genesis and discover how the editors overlay cultural insights throughout the commentary.
1:1-11:32 God, Humankind and Nature
What people believe about creation has important consequences for how they live. For example, the religious practices of those who believe that the universe arose from the sexual union of male and female deities often involve fertility rites similar to those of the Canaanite cult of Baal described in the OT. Thus it is appropriate that the Bible begins with chapters that assert that God created and controls the world and that he has appointed human beings to act as stewards of it. Sadly, they also show how human disobedience destroyed the relationship between God, humankind and nature, with disastrous consequences. Yet God in his mercy still reaches out to fallen humanity.
Every culture has its own story of the creation of the world. Some in South Asia claim the universe emanated from the ultimate reality, known as Brahman, just as sparks arise from fire. Such stories have arisen because human beings want to know how the world around them came into existence and want to be able to explain such things as the existence of evil.
The creation myths of ancient West Asia are among the oldest we know, dating back hundreds of years before the time of Moses. Some scholars suggest that the creation story in the Bible is simply the Israelites’ adaptation of earlier stories told by their neighbours. There are certainly resemblances between these stories. However, there are also remarkable differences between them. It makes sense to conclude that the inspired account in the Bible is intended to correct the defects of other earlier explanations of the source of the universe.
Genesis begins with not one but two accounts of the story of creation. These accounts are not contradictory, but they differ in their emphasis. Both reveal God’s creative power and purpose, his blessings for human beings and animals, and the diversity of his plan and the co-existence of all created things. Their teaching about God as creator is clearly an important article of faith, for there are many references to it in both the OT and the NT (Job 37:14-19; Pss 8; 19:1-6; 104:30; Isa 42:5; Jer 31:35-37; Mark 13:19; Col 1:16; 1 Tim 4:4; Rev 4:11; 10:6).
1:1-2:3 The First Story of Creation
The first story of creation gives us details about what was created on which day and ends with God having completed his work and resting on the seventh day. The main function of this account is to emphasise the orderly manner in which God created. He set everything in place systematically, to function without any confusion. Thus, the role of the crops and the sea is for the fish. We learn that plants are to bear fruit and that humans are to multiply and rule over all God’s creatures. This story also provides us with God’s point of view on his creation: “it was very good” (1:31).
1:1-2 In The Beginning
The opening words of Genesis and the Bible are in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (1:1). These words make it clear that God existed before creation and that he created the world out of nothing. It did not just evolve by itself over a long period of time, nor did God make it out of pre-existent raw materials.
When was this “beginning”? We are not told. The word does not refer to a particular year or time. It simply means “first of all” and refers to the first act of creation. Some preachers have tried to calculate this date, but their methods are flawed. We should not become distracted by trying to debate when creation occurred or how long it took. The Bible’s focus is on the fact that it was God’s work and that he created everything that exists in “the heavens and earth” and everywhere in between.
It is also important to note that this Creator is distinct from the things he created. There is no suggestion that the heavens and earth simply emanated from the body of God or that he is inseparable from his creation.
We are told nothing about the form of this Creator or where he abides. All that we know at this stage in Genesis is that he exists and that his Spirit was hovering over the waters (1:2). He was not a remote creator – he was involved with his creation from the outset.
1:3-25 Six Days of Creation
The panoramic view of creation in 1:1-2 is followed by a detailed poetic description of the process of creation, which is presented as taking place over six days. These should probably not be interpreted as literal days but rather as demarcated steps in a process, each step beginning with the phrase “God said” and ending by mentioning the end of the period. It is important to remember that the writer is not seeking to provide a scientific account of creation. His goal is to express something of the glory of creation and to reveal God’s unparalleled power through the effortlessness with which he created the universe. God did not have to use any instrument or acquire any raw material to create. He simply spoke and it happened. The emphasis is on God and his creative power, rather than on the details of the process…
All was dark (1:2) and so on the first “day” God used his word to create light or brightness and to separate the light from the darkness (1:3-4). The light was necessary so that all that was to be created could be seen, but it was also essential to enable plants to grow and life to develop.
God named the light “day” and the darkness “night” (1:5). This action is significant because naming something was interpreted as giving it an identity. The one who does the naming asserts authority over the things or people named. This is the important point here, rather than whether this day and night lasted exactly twenty-four hours.
The description of the work of God on the second day is once again not meant to provide scientific understanding but to convey the message that God carefully provided the necessities for life to exist. The process is presented in terms of the ancient understanding that there is water under the earth and water above the sky. God is said to have created a firmament or vault between the water covering the earth and the water above it (1:6-7). He named this vault “sky” (1:8). (Pgs 13-14)
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