Genesis 1:1 – In Christ, God cut the heavens and the earth

Now the constantly misunderstood beauty of Genesis 1-4 is its poetic undertone, which should not necessarily be made a purely analogical fare, given the anthropological Darwinian influence of these latter days. The Hebrew for “day”, “yom“, has been consistently used to display a day from evening to morning, as the Old Testament Jewish tradition displayed – not an eon, not a generation, not a day = 1000 days (and even then old earth/theistic evolution/evolution/progressive creationists prefer not to see the latter half of 1000 days = 1 as well!).  I’ve heard people say that since the sun and moon were not created until day 4, it is likely that time was measured differently before day 4.  I can’t help but feel that these bible interpretations are, again, an attempt to mold theology to our contemporary scientific understanding of the universe.  If our theology is culturally/socially/scientifically defined, then we’re opening a gate whereby the Bible is not given the objective context it is due.  Here, God himself states that it is a day, from ‘evening to morning’ – nothing to do with moon or sun.  This phrase pops up first with the separation of light and darkness on Day 1 – so we can safely assume that God (there is a mutually constituting relationship between time and eternity; it is not as if God was eternal, and THEN he created everything to be played out in time), when he says ‘evening and morning’ did not suddenly change his definition in day 4, when evening and morning should be self-explained on Day 1.  Should we wish to bend to the majority of our scientific counterparts’ interpretations and say that these evenings and mornings must have lasted some many tens of millions of years, then we might as well learn the new art of Scriptural-bending. For when analogy, prophecy and symbolism is used throughout Scripture, God never makes it vague and always provides the context like here – and just because the first chapter starts like a poem, it does not immediately follow that the description of ‘day’ must be merely poetic – as if ‘poem’ is a license for heresy.

Without any necessity to rely on extra-biblical evidence (as if it is ever our highest authority… haha), God himself reveals to Moses that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day”, and this stanza He repeats continually (1:5; 1:8; 1:13; 1:19; 1:23; 1:31; 2:2). By 2:2, the poetic undertone changes, the stanza no longer repeats, and we switch straight into the narrative — “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation”.

What’s this business about blessing the seventh day? Were the previous days not blessed? Why the sudden switch from poetic to narrative, and the exclusion of the stanza “there was evening and there was morning, the ___ day”? For the everlasting Day, the eternal Sabbath and Jubilee, needs no evening, nor morning — for there will only be capital D-ay, the light that was and is and will be good (v.4). More on this when we look at the verse in detail.

Now let us turn to look @ verse by verse:

1:1-2 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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”.

“εν αρχη εποιησεν ο θεος τον ουρανον και την γην”

Now, the LXX translates αρχη (arxh) as beginning, origin, outset, prime, principle, start, threshold – and undoubtedly many translations, and the more reliably literal ones such as ESV, KJV and NASB opt for “beginning”. Yet, much like the OT saints, apostolic and reformed fathers, the LXX is much like the NIV of our time – common, loose and possibly biased with the translator’s theology (or at least interpreted by men with their own theological agenda). The same word is this, in the original Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית

Bereishit bara Elohim, “bereishit” being the same αρχη and בְּרֵאשִׁית referred to earlier. What does this mean? Both the Greek arxh, and the Hebrew word bereishit, if split into its root combinations (be, reish, it — reish, which is “rosh” without vowels, meaning “head”). If reish of bereishit gives the literal translation: “At the head”, we are thus given more exegetical insight. For who is the head of the heavens and the earth? Colossians 1:16-18 is a big give-away: “For in (as the footnote suggests) him all things were created, in heaven and on earth…And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head (using the same arxh in the Greek) of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” And Hebrews 1:2: “…he (the Father) has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he (the Father) created the world.”

And the word “God”, as Elohim ( אֱלֹהִ֑ים )? A singular noun which is a plural of “El” – God – yet maintaining His Oneness. For our Lord God is one as Moses muses in Deuteronomy 6:4 (footnotes of ESV): “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one”. Why this term of expression? The LORD is our God, the LORD is one — sounds somewhat redundant. Who else can play the role of kurios, when the modern day Jews assume the Unitarian nature of “God” throughout the entire Old Testament? And yet this LORD is the same LORD who brought them out of Egypt, the same LORD who brought the Israelites to the Promised Land. Did the LORD contradict himself? Surely it was the Angel of the Lord who fulfilled that role, not the LORD himself? Judges 6:11-18, Exodus 3:5. No – we are not to assume that the modern day Jews are to hold some sort of theological hierarchy over us post-apostolic Christians. For what does non-second born Jewish theologians have in common with Old and New Testament Christians? Nothing, save a platform for persuasion that the Angel of the LORD is the LORD – the angel, ‘malak’, the messenger, the sent one from the second Lord on Mt. Sinai. He is no Metatron or given some unbiblical name as the Talmudic writings suggest — within its own right, Gideon, Joshua, Moses, just to name a few saints, knew the Angel as the LORD. And Moses rightfully defends the Trinitarian nature of ONE God to prevent the pluralistic idolatry in Exodus 32:4, a perversion of the one Angel in the pillar of cloud and fire, who brought the Israelites through the Baptism of the separation of the waters to meet the second Lord, the first person of the Trinity.

Finally, the word ‘bara‘ ( בָּרָ֣א ) – which is translated into ‘create’ in the English, but more accurately it means ‘cut’ as it has been commonly used in the instance of cutting covenants. Quoting Leon Sim in his sermon on Hebrews 10:

This is what Berkhof says about this word. “Its original meaning is to split, to cut, to divide… The word itself does not convey the idea of bringing forth something out of nothing.” Now here’s a bit of irony for you – this quote is taken from a section entitled “Creation as an act by which something is brought forth out of nothing”.

I guess I can see the irony too. Ex nihilo? More like Ex Christos. Poor Athanasius in his “On the Incarnation of the Word” – his tangential point in this classic theological piece would have had that much more focus on the alpha of Christ if God had created all things out of Christ, therefore the universe finding its only meaning in Christ alone. Rather, ex nihilo preaches a doctrine of nothingness, that we are to return to nothingness – to dust. But that is not what the Bible teaches – for all things will be recreated, and all unbelievers and believers arisen from their sleep on the Day. Is the teleology of the universe therefore nothingness? No – the teleology, the omega, of all things is also Christ. Whether all creatures and men find their timeless eternity in Christ, however, is something only the Christian men and beasts can take part in, much to the dismay of the rest of the God-rebelling creation.

Now, with the aid of the LXX and the Hebrew Scriptures, we can translate it sensitive to its intra-biblical context with the theological oomph:

“At the head (Christ) God (the Father) cut the heavens and the earth (by the Spirit)”. These are my theological add-ons in the bracket – and by no means is it forceful to understand the first two verses in the Bible with Trinitarian spectacles, for our Triune LORD was, is and will always be ONE. What better way therefore to start the Scriptures than with the Holy Family?

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Genesis 1:1 – In Christ, God cut the heavens and the earth

13 thoughts on “Genesis 1:1 – In Christ, God cut the heavens and the earth

  1. good one jacky

    you could take a look at a few more things..
    it doesn’t say ‘first day’ but ‘day one’

    and cut in what sense? cut-down, cut-out? and from what?

    there’s loads more =)
    keep going!

  2. irishanglican says:

    Hey mate, ya might want to check out EW Bullinger’s: Figures of Speech Used In The Bible? It will help in your poetic and narrative understanding of the Text. And Bullinger was no small mind on the Greek and word studies also.

  3. thesentone says:

    interesting… i’ll take a look at ‘day one’, and the context of cutting 🙂
    irishanglican – i will be sure to check out bullinger’s textbook, thanks! bullinger is definitely a hoot when it comes to such lexical detail

  4. Jacky says:

    Welcome Dave! I just made a comment on your site in response to this particular post, hope to hear from you more often soon!

  5. Dear Jacky,
    got the link from Dave’s blog.

    I found some insights interesting, but on the whole I disagree with your method and working.

    I think it would be helpful if you quoted your sources. Regarding the following statement:

    “the word ‘bara‘ ( בָּרָא ) – which is translated into ‘create’ in the English, but more accurately it means ‘cut’ as it has been commonly used in the instance of cutting covenants…”

    1. the statement “more accurately” is not appropriate. בָּרָא only means “cut” in the sense of cut stone or wood in the Piel-form. All Qal-Forms mean “create”.

    2. You err when you say that the word בָּרָא (bara) is used in the instance of “cutting covenants” – the noun berith (covenant) is used with the verb “catab” which means “write” or “cut”.

    3. Your method of finding the meaning of a word from its root is exegetically errant because some words change their meaning – examples in english include: nice, gay etc. This is a real trap. Which book are you getting this stuff from?

    My Source: Hebräisches und Aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, Koehler / Baumgartner (Eds), 3rd Edition, Leiden 1995. Sorry that this is a German book – it’s a standard Hebrew dictionary over here. Check “bara” out in any standard English Hebrew book.

  6. Jacky says:

    Hi Sam! I haven’t yet logged in but I thought I should make a quick reply! Welcome to the site in any case!

    Firstly, I’m still learning my Hebrew through J. Weingreen’s “Practical Grammar of Hebrew”, 2nd Edition. At least that’s what I think the exact title is, because I’ve left the book at work. I know that my vigour in the language is leaving a lot to be desired, but I’m sure you’ve seen Glen’s comments over at Dave’s and I actually got the interpretation through meditating over a number of essays (unpublished) written by an apprentice at the church I used to go to (it’s under the name “Leon Sim” which I posted over on my sermons/essays page where he wrote on Hebrews). I’d love to hear what you think of his explanation which is of course more detailed than what I’ve given, not to mention engaging with some other people who are more learned in the language than I am (Glen, if you’re reading this, I’d like to pass the ball to you here!) and still holding to similar conclusions/inclinations which I’ve made.

    Secondly, the unfortunate nature of ‘blogging’ is that I don’t have much time to do all the referencing, which is great because you can call me out and it will give me time to think over the issues, and bad because I may have come to different conclusions if I read everything that is written under the heaven over Genesis 1:1 and/or spent more time mulling over it. However, it of course doesn’t mean that I don’t try to do my research, it’s just that I plan to re-tread all the Scriptures once I’m done looking at the Bible as a whole. In which case, by then, I’ll be sure to include references and even do a proper rather than the quick word study which I’ve done on ‘bara’. Of course I’m aware of the different interpretations given over the word as summarised in Berkhof’s “Systematic Theology”. The interpretation of the word ‘bara’ isn’t entirely devoid of debates either, so I’d also be careful to be so sure about it being used only in one way and not another.

    Do mind if I ask you some questions though…

    1. I understand that there are different words used for, say, ‘assembly’ in the Old Testament (one of which is ‘echad’) – and a common controversy is the comparison made between the Old Testament assembly and the New Testament church. I for one believe that the Greek term ‘church’ is equivalent to the OT term ‘assembly’ (implied through the LXX), and of course the congregation of Israel has been referred to as other things than ‘echad’ on several occasions. However, even if different Hebrew words are used to describe the ‘group of people’ in Israel, does this take away the fundamental possibility that the narrator may be referring to a similar truth laid down by the word ‘church’ in the NT writings? Can words other than ‘echad’ be just as sufficient in certain contexts? The reason I ask this is because of the possibility of using ‘bara’ (which in some cases mean ‘cut down’, so I’m not sure it strictly means ‘create’ even in the Qal form) even in the case for covenants. However, of course, Genesis 1:1 is referring to the cutting down from the head (bereshit) rather than cutting from the covenant…

    2. Your point on the changing of the meaning of the word in point 3 is duly noted and just exegetical care is greatly greatly appreciated. Having said that, and of course using the context given, are you saying that it is utterly impossible for the meaning to be what I’ve given over Genesis 1:1, or are you saying that it is a loose interpretation which may not be entirely accurate given the possibility of the changing of meaning? It is after all just a musing of my mind, and no doubt there can be at least a number of different ways of interpreting the language – albeit I’m trying to interpret it in the light of Christ and especially given the fact that the world was created through Christ as intimated in Colossians 1. If Scripture was to testify to Scripture on this point, then I’d be happy to take the interpretation that “bereshit” is perhaps just as important as the word “bara”, and muse further as to why “bereshit” is literally “in the head” or the Greek “arche” as well. We are free to use the terms “beginning” or whatnot to translate it of course, but the semantic range is much richer and vaster than what we give it, thus “God cut down in the head etc etc”, though it may also work if I said “God made in the head”. Again, I do note the danger of looking at Hebrew like this, but ultimately I feel that with the semantic range of some Hebrew words, the theological understanding *sometimes* may have to give weight to the translation as I’m sure most translation committees would agree.

    Hope to hear you more on this, but I do hope you get a chance to read Leon’s essay and perhaps query some other people who have also replied you on the issue over at Dave’s site 🙂

  7. Dear Jacky,
    Thanks for replying. I’ll lay all my cards on the table to start with: I’m still an undergraduate. I studied Hebrew and got a good grade, and have done a exegesis module on Genesis, but that ended a year ago. You’re not crossing swords with a Hebrew professor 😉

    I’m going to defer on some of your questions which lead onto other issues because I have other priorities at the moment. But I’ve got time to say some things. I’ve checked out NIDOTE I, p. 728-735 which gives an overview.

    the meaning of bara
    Some theologians in the past emphasised the special character of the word “bara” in order to boost their “creatio ex nihilo” theology. They said: bara MUST mean “create” in the sense of “out of nothing.” According to Heb 11:3 that’s not a bad idea.

    Others (among others the Mormons) prefer the meaning “cut/separate” because it suggests that there was material already there which God just cut/ separated.

    So we’ve got a theology-of-creation debate erupting over one word. Most evangelicals prefer “create” because they feel it fits better with Heb 11:3 and the notion of creatio ex nihilo.

    To be frank your position confuses me because you seem to be for a young-earth six-24h-day interpretation which is usally quite strict about there being no material before God spoke in Gen 1:1.

    I’m much more happy with your comment above: “I’d also be careful to be so sure about it being used only in one way and not another…”

    That just stood in contrast to the “more accurately” thing – it kinda brushed aside a whole big debate with an air of sureness which only a Hebrew Prof might allow (but would have to prove).

    What I’m saying (to sum up) is that it would be (statistically) unusual for bara to mean “cut/separate” in Qal. Having said that I personally have no problem with Gen 1:1 talking about God separating the heavens and the earth (though many evangelicals get concerned that this doesn’t fit with Heb 11:3), because I don’t believe that the cosmology of Genesis is something we have to believe – it’s the theology, the message which is powerful and true. Gordon Wenhams Commentary on Genesis 1-15 is really good IMO.

    Christ in the OT
    What you are trying to do in seeking Christ in the Old Testament is laudable because Christ set that example on the Emmaus road. My question is what this example means in practice – does it mean discovering the doctrine of the trinity in Leviticus? Do we sometimes bend the texts to fit even our Christian purposes? Do we have to believe that every OT author was writing about Christ, having had a vision of him? Or is it enough to say that the theology and themes of the OT find their fulfillment in Christ – or as the hymn puts it: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.

    “Christian theological reflection on the OT must not address issues from an entirely “BC” framework, but it must also not read NT developments into OT theological themes.” (R. Schultz in NIDOTE I, 202).

    External evidence
    Now I’m covering lots of ground but I want to say something about your claim that we don’t rely on evidence external to the bible. The cry of sola scriptura was made in the time of the Reformation over and against the tradition of the church. All good. The late modern extension of this cry over and against the natural world and all we see and hear is a theological nightmare, IMO.

    The (even “fallen”) creation declare the glory of God – and (even “fallen”) archaeology, science and philology. If we don’t rely on external evidence at all, then we shouldn’t need a Hebrew dictionary with all the hours of labour to understand the meaning of words in the ancient world.

    Lots of ground covered… time for bed!

  8. Jacky says:

    Hi!

    I’ll be short in my answering..

    (1) ex nihilo and Hebrews 11:3 – as far as I know, it says that nothing is created from things which are visible; and as much as the Mormons hold onto the ‘cut-down’ bara translation, I’m upholding “ex Christo” (thus, *not* ex nihilo) because the creation was cut out of Christ (Colossians 1; Hebrews 1) rather than created BY Christ. In Trinitarian words, that would mean that the Father, by the power of the Spirit, created all things in Christ and through Christ, thus Christ being the ‘head’ material and creation being the ‘body’ of Christ. It all gives the impression of pan(en)theism, but it also supports the notion that the creation itself preaches the gospel generally (Psalm 19) but explicitly revealed in the image and Word of the Father, Christ, since creation bears the imprint of the head Bridegroom.

    A further note on the etymology of the word ‘bara’ can be found in Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology under the chapter “Creation in General” subsection C “The Idea of Creation” where he looks at the word itself. This is what he says:

    “Its original meaning is to split, to cut, to divide; but in addition to this it also means to fashion, to create, and in a more derivative sense, to produce, to generate, and to regenerate. The word itself does not convey the idea of bringing forth something out of nothing, for it is even used of works of providence, Isa. 45:7; Jer. 31:22; Amos 4:13.”

    If Berkhof is right in his summary of the verb (and he later goes on to describe how the term ‘ex nihilo’ is taken from the Apocrypha II. Macc. 7:28, though he later concludes that the doctrine is more of less accurate as it is typical of God to make things out of nothing, but man to make things out of things visible), then I’m using his own definition to support a more nuanced approach to creation which is ‘ex Christo’. Like you indicate, this can lead to the equally important question of eschatology, for if all things are held in Christ (back to Colossians 1), then it makes sense why all things are reborn (i.e. even non-Christians experience resurrection, but they will also experience the second death) because creation will necessarily go through a re-birth as Christ himself, the head and source of creation, was re-birthed (so to speak).

    (2) Yes, the topic of Christ in the OT is immensely vast, to which I direct you to Glen’s series where he has attempted at large to unlock the different layers of how Christ is present, from typology to Christophany: http://christthetruth.wordpress.com/christ-in-ot/

    (3) I’m not sure whether this ‘external evidence’ sub-category is a response to s’th I said or whether you’ve decided to raise this issue now – I’m totally for the external evidence and I believe strongly, like you, that sola scriptura does not mean that we only rely on Scripture and nothing else; rather, it is by the Word of God that we test all things, and undoubtedly that includes all the logical disciplines which find their first and last meaning in the Word and Logos Himself 🙂

  9. Rudolf Venter says:

    Just a note of caution here.

    I came across your blog via a search on something else. As Faith is off coarse also of not only great interest to me, I felt in dropping a word or two.

    Please allow me…

    We have to get to understand the contexts of Scripture, what it is all about, for who is it written and how to follow.

    Scripture is not about translation, languages, theological methods, science or our thinking and understanding.

    Scripture is Spirit, that means when we are made to experience it, then and then only we will start to see a picture in Spirit of Him (Scripture).

    There is a certain way that Scripture in Spirit is operating, if I may say so. It is about Discipleship, about the Gospel of the Kingdom through the Parables towards He’s mysteries to also the Cross to happen inside of us. The Resurrection, He is the Resurrection. If the dead is not been raised, then Christ is also not been raised.

    It is about a individualistic relationship for all to be He’s Kingdom, He’s Body together and workable in and through Spirit (Him & the Word).

    The Light shines for all and is waiting to reveal Him self to us.

    Christ Himself proclaim and teaches the Gospel of the Kingdom for today as well will do so for tomorrow.

    There is then also a certain lifestyle, He will let us in, a workable social and balanced lifestyle for the current time being.

    All the best!

  10. Jacky says:

    Glory!

    I agree with most of what you said Rudolph. Indeed, by the Spirit, we have a “Spirit”-instinctive way of reading the written Word which proclaims the eternal Word of God (John 1) – the Spirit who testifies to Jesus Christ.

    That is what this blog is about — the proclamation of Christ through the original Hebrew; through the Greek; through the English – don’t let my poor rambling get in the way of the core message of Christ in the Scriptures!

    Two words of caution however —

    “Scripture is not about translation, languages, theological methods, science or our thinking and understanding.”

    Indeed – Scripture is about Christ. But the fact that we understand English Scripture hopefully means that we do not neglect understanding the basics of English language. If anything, clarifying linguistic bearings, in the light of Christ, brings us closer to Him – which is a very different exercise from Christ-less hermeneutics.

    As 1 Corinthians 2 proclaims, “our thinking and understanding”, if it is the wisdom of the world, indeed is despicable. That is why my thinking and understanding is hopefully clung onto Christ – that is OUR new thinking and OUR new understanding – from Him 🙂 But — that understanding/thinking, renewed, is still OURS by the Spirit’s filling.

    “It is about a individualistic relationship for all to be He’s Kingdom, He’s Body together and workable in and through Spirit (Him & the Word).”

    The relationship is communal – it is the church, the community – the Bride (Isaiah 61:10-11; Revelation 19:7-10; Ephesians 5:22-33) as a whole church in relation to Him. There is nothing ‘individualistic’ except for us to heed the call to join His communal body.

    I’d like to end on your words:

    “Christ Himself proclaim and teaches the Gospel of the Kingdom for today as well will do so for tomorrow. ”

    Amen to that.

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