The first sentence of the Bible states that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As such, it concerns the creation of the universe by a powerful creator deity. Genesis 1:1-2:2 speaks of a single beginning to everything. The origin of the universe begins with darkness and emptiness (1:2), and following God’s creative actions over the following days life is brought into existence.
It is fascinating that within such a pithy introduction readers are immediately introduced to the main character of the story: God, and then to his relationship with everything else. As the story is communicated it is clear that God not only looks favourably upon his creation but that he is also actively involved within it. Genesis 1:1, unlike some of other ancient origin myths, therefore does not provide a representation of an uncaring or vindictive deity but rather one that is both loving and creative. It is also clear that the universal scope of Genesis 1:1 establishes the domain of God’s rule, which is over the “heavens and the earth,” and thus over all of his creation.
Biblical scholars believe that the Genesis creation myth was likely penned at some point during the 6th century BC while the Israelites were held in exile by Babylon (1), and not to Christian and Jewish tradition which holds to Mosaic authorship (2). It noticeably shares much in common with Mesopotamian mythology which it adapts some of its themes from (3). However, it also shows remarkable differences. In contrast to other mythologies there are deliberate changes the author makes particularly in ascribing the existence of the universe to the will of a good God (4). In the Babylonian origin myth of the Enuma Elish the god Marduk, who the Babylonians believed was the supreme god in their pantheon, enslaved humanity, whereas the biblical God is depicted in a close and loving relationship with his human creation. The story also suggests that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creative work, and that rather than enslaving humanity God goes on to entrust humans with his creation.
Contextually, the Genesis account provided a hopeful message concerning God’s purposes for his people and the world for the Israelites in exile. It reassured them that while they were held in foreign lands they were not beyond God’s reach and care. After all, Genesis says that God created all the land, including the foreign land in which the Israelites found themselves.
God’s power is frequently communicated throughout the account. He simply speaks and major events of immense creative feats occur. For example, punctuated throughout are phrases such as “and God said,” which creates a rhythm to the story. God simply speaks things into existence, and throughout the rest of the Bible the word of God is seen as both powerful and dynamic in its ability to renounce blessing, judgement, and forgiveness (5). Each day in the story is an effort of creativity. First God calls out, “Let there be light,” and light appears. God then creates the sky. On the third day, God calls the water to gather into one place, and then created land on which plants and trees could grow and flourish. The fourth day has God creating the “greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night,” and goes on to make stars, all of which he sets into the vault of the sky to give light on the Earth. God then populates the skies with its birds, and the oceans with its creatures. Readers are then introduced to the pinnacle of God’s creation on the sixth day as after populating the land with living creations he creates humanity “in his image” (1:27). The story suggests that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creative work, and he goes on to entrust creation to human beings before resting on the seventh day.
There is also the important detail that God deems his creation good, or “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Genesis thus affirm the goodness of the created world, despite the later event of the Fall which brings evil and sin into the world. It is not surprising that the beauty of God’s creation is frequently referred to in other biblical texts. The Psalms, for example, delight in the beauty of the created world while other writers see God’s attributes evidenced within the created order.
A final detail worth mentioning is that it is from the Genesis creation story that the number seven finds its significance. The pattern set by God’s creating the world in six days which is followed by a seventh day of rest forms the understanding of the number seven as a perfect, complete number throughout the rest of the Bible. The biblical authors frequently use seven (or its multiples) to show or demonstrate something that is complete in the way that God wants it to be. For example, God has seven different names, Jesus Christ tells his disciples to forgive transgressors 70 times (sevens multiple which he was using to teach his followers to forgive completely and repeatedly), and the book of Revelation includes a series of sevens in the form of seven letters, lampshades, judgements, and trumpets, all of which represents the completeness of God’s plan. The creation story and the rhythm it sets also became enshrined in Jewish religious practices of daily prayer, rest on the Sabbath, and annual cycle of religious festivals.
1. Schneider, T. et al. 2018. The Bible Book. p. 22-26
2. Anderson, B. & Gooder, P. 2017. An Introduction to the Study of the Pentateuch. p. 38-39.
3. Schneider, T. et al. 2018. Ibid.
4 .Nahum M. Sarna. 1997. Genesis: World of Myths and Patriarchs. p. 50.
5. Schneider, T. et al. Ibid.