Bible Commentary: Genesis 1:1–2:4

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Genesis 1:1–2:4

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Introduction to Genesis

The book of Genesis is the first of the five books that Moses wrote (known collectively as the Pentateuch or Torah), apparently during the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness before being brought into Canaan, the Promised Land, under Joshua. The other four books of Moses are Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

But since Moses lived long after the events described in Genesis, where did he get his information? The book of Genesis shows evidence that it was compiled by Moses from earlier documents. In some cases the earlier documents he used are specifically named. One of the most obvious is noted in Genesis 5:1 Genesis 5:1This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
American King James Version×
: “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.” Another intriguing example is found in Genesis 2:4 Genesis 2:4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
American King James Version×
: “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created….” Some scholars point out that this apparently refers to a document, “the history of the heavens and the earth,” that is the source for all the preceding material from Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
through Genesis 2:3 Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
.

The British scholar and Bible translator James Moffatt was firmly convinced that this is an editorial note giving the source of the information. In his translation he even transferred the first part of Genesis 2:4 Genesis 2:4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
American King James Version×
to serve as the introduction to Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
. Thus his Bible translation begins with Genesis 2:4 Genesis 2:4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
American King James Version×
, “This is the story of how the universe was formed…,” before going into Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
.

The Hebrew word translated “history” in Genesis 2:4 Genesis 2:4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
American King James Version×
literally means “generations”—or, as the New King James Version translates it elsewhere, “genealogy.” Bible scholars recognize at least eight other passages in Genesis where the same word is used in what appear to be a series of ancient documents that form much of the source material for the book.

Genesis 6:9 Genesis 6:9These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.
American King James Version×
, for example, informs us, “This is the genealogy of Noah.” The narrative then recounts how God told Noah to build an ark in which he, his family and the many kinds of animals were spared from the flood. Genesis 10:1 Genesis 10:1Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and to them were sons born after the flood.
American King James Version×
then picks up the story from what appears to be a new document: “Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 11:10 Genesis 11:10These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:
American King James Version×
continues with another narrative, telling us, “This is the genealogy of Shem.” The same literary structure continues with the accounts of Abraham’s father Terah (Genesis 11:27 Genesis 11:27Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
American King James Version×
), Ishmael (Genesis 25:12 Genesis 25:12Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bore to Abraham:
American King James Version×
), Isaac (Genesis 25:19 Genesis 25:19And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac:
American King James Version×
), Esau (Genesis 36:1 Genesis 36:1Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom.
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, Genesis 36:9 Genesis 36:9And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir:
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) and Jacob (Genesis 37:2 Genesis 37:2These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought to his father their evil report.
American King James Version×
).

From the particular Hebrew wording used it appears that these passages are in fact family histories and genealogical records written either at or near the time of the events they describe. These records were then passed down from generation to generation and ultimately compiled in the book we know as Genesis.

The different writing styles in each of these sections provides further evidence that they were written by different authors at different times and in different cultures. Notice what The Expositor’s Bible Commentary introduction to the book tells us: “Much like the writers of the NT [New Testament] Gospels and the later historical books of the OT [Old Testament] (e.g., Kings and Chronicles), the writer of the Book of Genesis appears to have composed his work from ‘archival’ records of God’s great deeds in the past. We know from references with the early historical books that such records were maintained at an early stage in Israel’s history (Exodus 17:14 Exodus 17:14And the LORD said to Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.
American King James Version×
; Numbers 21:14 Numbers 21:14Why it is said in the book of the wars of the LORD, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon,
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; Joshua 10:13 Joshua 10:13And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the middle of heaven, and hurried not to go down about a whole day.
American King James Version×
); so it is not unlikely that similar records were kept at far earlier stages within the individual households of the patriarchs and their tribal ancestors.

“In any event, the narrative within the Book of Genesis appear to be largely made up of small, self-contained stories…. If such is, in fact, the case, one should not expect to find absolute uniformity of style, etc., among all the individual narratives…. Indeed, we would likely expect the writer, working under the direction of God, to have preserved his records just as he had received them, sacrificing uniformity for the sake of historical faithfulness….

“The picture of the narratives of Genesis that emerges from such observations is that of a carefully wrought account of Israel’s early history fashioned from the narratives and genealogical tables of Israel’s own ancestral archives” (1990, vol. 2, pp. 4-5). And Moses then compiled, edited and perhaps enhanced this material as he was guided by the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

In the Hebrew editions of the Scriptures the book of Genesis receives its name from the first word of Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
, Berishiyth, “In the Beginning.” The name by which we know the book, Genesis, comes from the Greek translation of the Pentateuch known as the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX); the word means “beginning” or “origin.”

Truly Genesis is a book of beginnings. Its purpose is to chronicle origins. It records the origin of the universe, the earth, man, sin, gentile nations, the Israelite people, the covenants and social customs of the Israelites. While it is the first book of the portion of the Bible known as the Torah (often rendered as “the Law” in English), Genesis is not primarily a book of law per se—that is, it is mostly a historical narrative. (It should be realized that Torah can more generally mean “teaching” or “instruction.”)

However, Genesis does issue some specific commands. Some examples: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17 Genesis 2:17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
American King James Version×
). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…” (Genesis 2:24 Genesis 2:24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×
), which Christ later quoted as part of God’s law (Matthew 19:4-6 Matthew 19:4-6 [4] And he answered and said to them, Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, [5] And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall join to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh? [6] Why they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
American King James Version×
). “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4 Genesis 9:4But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat.
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). This law is reiterated later in Leviticus (Leviticus 17:11-12 Leviticus 17:11-12 [11] For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul. [12] Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojournes among you eat blood.
American King James Version×
). God also said in Genesis: “Walk before me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 Genesis 17:1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be you perfect.
American King James Version×
). That is a definite command. Furthermore, Genesis also reveals the origins of many other laws, such as those dealing with the Sabbath, circumcision, proper foods and many other issues. This is important to understand, for some believe the laws of God codified in the other books of the Pentateuch had no prior existence and therefore are not intended for mankind in general but only for ancient Israel.

Genesis deals with several themes. Like multicolored threads woven together into a fine tapestry, each of these themes is woven through the narrative of the entire book. The sovereignty of God, sin and its consequences, obedience and faith, redemption and forgiveness—all these and many other themes come through loud and clear in this marvelous book. We’ll see many of these themes continue throughout the entire Bible as well.

Elohim

In the opening sentence of the Bible, we are introduced to the Creator, who in English is called God. In the Hebrew, the word translated “God” here is Elohim. Understanding this Hebrew word is vital to understanding the purpose of God and your destiny.

Elohim is the plural form of El or Eloah. Both El and Eloah derive from a root meaning “strong,” and hence El and Eloah mean “the Strong One,” referring to God. Thus, Elohim, a plural noun, literally means “the Strong Ones,” and is used to identify God, who is all-powerful. Elohim is used to indicate both the true God and the false gods of human invention. However, when used to indicate the true God the word Elohim, plural in form, is often (but not always) paired with a singular verb, seemingly contrary to the rules of grammar. For example, in English we would say, “They run,” which would correctly follow the grammatical rule that the plural they be paired with the plural run. But we would never say, “He run,” for the rules of English grammar require that the singular pronoun he be paired with the singular verb runs. In just the same way we would expect the plural noun Elohim to be paired with a plural verb. But that is not always the case when referring to the true God. In Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
we read, “In the beginning God created…” While the word for God is Elohim, a plural noun, the word for “created,” bara, is singular in form. Why?

We must remember that Elohim is often used as a name—viewed best as a family name. Another good illustration can be found in the national name, United States. In American English, this is a singular noun. Though plural in form, you would pair it with the singular verb “is.” For instance, the United States is involved in the conflict—rather than the United States are involved in the conflict. Of course, the question might be asked, why is this name plural in form? The answer is that it does represent a true plurality—as multiple states make up the country. Just the same, why is the name Elohim, though often singular in usage, plural in form? The reason is that it too represents a true plurality—more than one Being making up the God family.

But why, if Elohim is plural in form, do we refer to it in English by the singular form “God”? The answer is that in most cases the inspired Greek of the New Testament translates the word as Theos, the singular form of the noun meaning God. And there definitely is a singular element to the God family. For the true God is a plurality in complete agreement and oneness of mind! Odd as it may sound, the Bible reveals that God is a family of Spirit Beings. Yet Jesus Christ Himself emphasized this truth when He continually spoke of the Father—a separate divine Being—and Himself as the Son of God. This divine family of God always acts, thinks and speaks in complete unity. And perhaps that is what the Greek Theos emphasizes. But that Elohim does in fact denote a plurality of divine Beings is proven quite clearly elsewhere in Scripture, including two other verses in Genesis.

Genesis 1:26 Genesis 1:26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
American King James Version×
reads, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” The Hebrew is very clear, and the translation using “Us” and “Our” is precisely correct. God, Elohim, is a plurality! But some will point to Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
American King James Version×
and note that it reads, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”—using this to argue that God was only a single individual Being. The simple scriptural explanation is that when it came to doing the creating, only one God Being acted—the One who became Christ (Ephesians 3:9 Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×
). He created man in His own image as Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
American King James Version×
states. But since the One who became Christ is the very image of the Father, the statement of verse 26 is entirely correct. There is no contradiction between verses 26 and 27.

But the clincher is Genesis 3:22 Genesis 3:22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
American King James Version×
—“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us…” There can be absolutely no confusing of the matter here. The phrase “one of Us” can only mean that God is a plurality of Beings. While there is one God, that God is a spirit family of divine Beings, but a family without quarrel or schism, always acting in complete unison and harmony. (For a more complete explanation of this divine spirit family, request or download your free copy of our booklet Who Is God?)

The Creation

Chapter 1 of Genesis presents the story of the creation. Though the Genesis creation does bear some superficial similarities to the creation fables of Israel’s Egyptian, Canaanite, Babylonian and Assyrian neighbors, a straightforward comparison of the creation stories reveals the Genesis story to be of a vastly different character—simple, majestic, inspiring and devoid of childish myth. In fact, the Genesis account of creation shows the true God in sovereign authority and unquestioned power over the very elements reputed to be gods by the pagan religions—light, water, earth, heavenly bodies, sea creatures, plants, animals and man.

Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
records the creation of the heavens (the plural heavens here perhaps indicating the three kinds of heaven mentioned in the Bible: God’s spiritual dwelling place, outer space and our planet’s atmosphere) and the earth—which does not imply that all of these came into being at the same time. The account of creation in Genesis 1 has been the focus of ridicule by scientists, atheists and unbelievers since the mid-1800s. Central to the assertion that Genesis 1 is unscientific is the notion that biblical chronology only allows about 6,000 years since the universe was created. But a correct understanding of the first two verses reveals that the Bible allows for a much older universe, even an age commensurate with the estimates of many scientists.

Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
tells us that God created the heavens and the earth at some indefinite time in the past. Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×
then says that the earth “was without form and void.” First notice the word “was,” translated from the Hebrew hayah. It can also be rendered “became.” It is the same word used in Genesis 4:2 Genesis 4:2And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
American King James Version×
, which says that Abel “was” a shepherd. He clearly wasn’t born as one, but became one in time. Moreover, the words “came to pass” in the next verse are translated from the same Hebrew word. So the language of Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×
could be understood to mean not that the earth was originally “without form and void” but, rather, became that way. And, indeed, this is what happened, as we will see.

The Hebrew for “without form and void” here, tohu va bohu, could also be rendered “waste and chaos.” That this was not the state of God’s initial creation can be seen from Isaiah 45:18 Isaiah 45:18For thus said the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he has established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
American King James Version×
, which states, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited.” The word rendered “vain” here is tohu—the same word from Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×
signifying a wasted condition. God, therefore, did not create the earth in a state of waste and confusion. It became that way—evidently in the wake of the angelic revolt led by Satan (compare Revelation 12:4 Revelation 12:4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 14:12-14 Isaiah 14:12-14 [12] How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! [13] For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: [14] I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 28:12-15 Ezekiel 28:12-15 [12] Son of man, take up a lamentation on the king of Tyrus, and say to him, Thus said the Lord GOD; You seal up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. [13] You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of your tabrets and of your pipes was prepared in you in the day that you were created. [14] You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were on the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the middle of the stones of fire. [15] You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
American King James Version×
; Luke 10:18 Luke 10:18And he said to them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
American King James Version×
). Thus, the creation account that then follows is actually the account of the renovation of the earth in preparation for the creation of man (compare Psalms 104:29-30 Psalms 104:29-30 [29] You hide your face, they are troubled: you take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. [30] You send forth your spirit, they are created: and you renew the face of the earth.
American King James Version×
).

Throughout Genesis 1, the creation is seen as the product of the deliberate, reasoned and purposeful act of a supreme Creator God. This stands in sharp contrast to the creation fables of Israel’s neighboring nations mentioned above. Those nations manufactured creation epics that had gods ruling the universe yet not having created it. In their epics, the universe had always existed, but in a chaotic state—the job of the gods being to bring some degree of order to the primeval chaos. In some pagan creation epics, the gods did create the universe but only after falling into a drunken state—hence creating by accident! In other pagan creation epics the universe emanated from the gods, growing out of their bodies. Clearly the Genesis creation account stands apart from the creation epics of pagan religions and can in no way be said to be derived from or based on them.

The Genesis creation is presented in a very logical format. Key to rightly comprehending the narrative is to understand that the story is told from the perspective of one standing on the surface of the earth, not one looking down on the earth from some stellar vantage point. It is as if God wanted to put the reader right in the middle of the creative act, watching the process of creation occur all around him. From this terrestrial position, the reader watches the creative act unfold in apparently two stages, each stage occupying three days of activity, the corresponding days of each stage dealing with the same elements. It appears that the first stage comprises days one through three while the second stage comprises days four through six. Days one and four both deal with the heavens; days two and five both deal with the waters; days three and six both deal with the land.

From the pattern of creation shown in Genesis 1 we can learn about God. First, God is the living, active, sovereign Creator who exercises complete control over everything. Second, God is a logical God who creates with design and purpose. Third, God creates in stages—the first stage laying the foundation, the second stage providing the completion and beautification. With this understanding, consider how God is dealing with mankind. The first stage in mankind’s creation was physical, when mankind was created according to the physical and intellectual image and likeness of God, receiving dominion over the earth. The second stage in human creation is spiritual, wherein mankind is being created in the spiritual character image of God through Jesus Christ, and is ultimately to receive dominion over all things. In the first stage, God gave the codified law, known from the time of Adam and Eve and eventually redelivered and written on tablets of stone; in the second, He gives His Spirit, which writes the law on our hearts. In the first stage, God dealt with a physical people descended from one man; in the second stage, He deals with a spiritual people begotten by Himself. Clearly the Creator God is still creating, still following His pattern of creation!


Supplementary Reading: “Earth’s Age: Does Genesis 1 Indicate a Time Interval” and “Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation”Creation or Evolution, pp. 62-63 and 66-67.


The Sabbath

God accomplished the final act of creation week by resting from the work He’d been doing. Genesis 2:1 Genesis 2:1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
American King James Version×
tells us that the heavens and the earth, and all their host, were completed on the sixth day. Genesis 2:2 Genesis 2:2And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
American King James Version×
reads, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which he had done”—or, as some Bible versions better translate it, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing…” (New International Version). In other words, when the seventh day of creation week began, God had already ceased His work of creating. Instead of creating on the seventh day, God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it—set it apart—from all other days.

The first three verses of Genesis 2 narrate the origin of the seventh-day Sabbath, the weekly day of rest later reintroduced to the Israelites upon their deliverance from Egypt in the days of Moses. Though the word “Sabbath” does not actually appear in Genesis 2 directly, it appears indirectly. The word Shabbath (i.e., Sabbath) is a noun form of the Hebrew verb shabath, which means to cease and desist, to rest from doing a thing. This word shabath is translated “rested” in Genesis 2:2 Genesis 2:2And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
American King James Version×
and Genesis 2:3 Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
. God “shabath-ed” on the seventh day, the Shabbath day! Moreover, the same verb shabath is used in God’s instructions in Exodus 23:12 Exodus 23:12Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest: that your ox and your ass may rest, and the son of your handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.
American King James Version×
, Exodus 31:17 Exodus 31:17It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
American King James Version×
and Exodus 34:21 Exodus 34:21Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest: in ripening time and in harvest you shall rest.
American King James Version×
to rest and keep the Sabbath day holy. So indeed the seventh day of Genesis 2 was the first Sabbath day, and this is the origin of the weekly Sabbath. (For a more complete explanation of God’s purpose for creating the Sabbath and commanding its observance, be sure to request or download your free copy of our booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest.)


Supplementary Reading: “Earth’s Age: Does Genesis 1 Indicate a Time Interval” and “Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation,” Creation or Evolution, pp. 29-30.

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