Old Testament Study – Creation Defined
So what does Genesis teach us about the doctrine of creation? Before we
can attempt to answer this question we must come to some understanding of the
definition of creation. The primary meaning of ‘creation’ as used in
Scripture is something as follows: ‘to bring into existence that which had no
existence. To make something out of nothing.’ This is the biblical doctrine
of ‘creatio ex nihilo’.
But there is also a secondary sense in which the word is used by biblical
authors – the act of forming something out of materials which are by their
nature inadequate for or inferior to the final product. The best example of
this second sense is the creation of man from the dust of the earth. Man, the
most beautiful creation of God and the crowning achievement of his work, is
formed from mud and dirt and dust; hardly materials that would be considered
adequate to the task.
There are, of course, many implications for this theological conception of
creatio ex nihilo. Most importantly, it means that the physical universe
along with all it contains is dependent for its existence on God.
Additionally, we learn from this doctrine that the material world is not some
entity or eternal principle which wages war without end against God, and that
it is neither eternal nor self-sufficient. It had a beginning and – according
to Scripture – will one day come to an end.
We should also introduce here another theological expression, the Latin
phrase ‘ad extra’. Theologians coined this term to signify that God created
the universe outside of or external to himself. This is in direct contrast to
an ancient philosophical concept known as pantheism which says that God and
the universe are one, that God is in nature and nature is God. Pantheistic
notions lie at the heart of much Buddhist thought, of many animistic beliefs
which worship nature or portions of nature, and may even be found in some
forms of liberal Christian theology which argue that the Spirit of God is in
every man and in every thing.
Thus, the Christian doctrine of creation insists that God created the
universe from nothing, simply by speaking it into existence, and that he
created it external to himself. God is in the world, but the world is not
God, just as I am sitting in this room while remaining distinct and separate
THE SEVEN DAYS OF CREATION
Next, then, let us take a look at the seven days of creation. The accounts
may be found in the first chapters of Genesis. Briefly, their outline runs as
follows: On the first day, God created light. On the second day, he created a
division between the sky (or ‘heavens’) and the earth. Dry land and
vegetables he created on the third day, and then heavenly bodies (the sun,
moon and stars) on the fourth. On day five he created birds and fishes, and
finally animals and man on the sixth day. On the seventh day God rested from
One difficulty many have had with a literal interpretation of the Genesis
accounts is that of reconciling the creation of light on the second day and of
‘lights’ (the sun, moon and stars) later. On this I have recently encountered
some interesting observations which I’ll pass on to you. You can take them
for what they’re worth.
When we look at the accounts of creation, with the exception of the
problem between the creation of light and the creation of the heavenly lights,
there is a certain logical sequence within the creation accounts: first we see
the creation of the heavens and the earth, then the division of land and sea,
followed by the creation of that which functions on land – i.e. vegetable life
– then progressing to birds and fishes, and finally from that to man.
It is interesting to note, however, another possible relationship in the
accounts. In the first day of the creation era we have the creation of light,
while on the fourth day we have the creation of lights. On the second day
comes the division between earth and sky, while the fifth day finds the
creation of that which lives in earth and sky – birds and fish. The third day
sees the appearance of dry land, and the sixth day that which inhabits the dry
land – animals and man. And finally, on the seventh day, God rested.
This is yet another way of saying we seem to have an exact sequence here.
First, God creates light in a situation which the biblical accounts declare is
formless and void, with darkness on the face of the deep. Later, the sun,
moon and stars are created to reflect the light which God had earlier created
as a principle. Or, on the other hand, it may be that what we have is not an
exact sequence, but more of a literary construction which is simply intended
to say that God created the world orderly and in its proper sequence without
really intending to set forth exactly what that sequence is. This latter
position is not a new hypothesis, being the position taken by St. Augustine as
early as the fourth century AD.
‘DAY’ AND ‘KIND’
As we look at this outline of the seven days there are a number of points
which may be made about creation. First, there are certain limits employed.
Throughout the description the Genesis author uses the word ‘day’. We need to
be very careful about our understanding of this word, as the Bible uses it to
refer to many things. In Genesis 1:5,14, for example, the word is used first
to refer to a period of light in distinction to darkness, while later on in
verse 5 it is used again to refer to both light and darkness together – one 24
hour period. It is also used in this second sense in verses 5, 8 and 13.
But if we turn to Genesis 2:4 we read ‘This is the account of the heavens
and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth
and heaven.’ (NASB) This time ‘day’ is used to refer to the entire creation
era. In passages such as Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 10:6 ‘day’ means something
like ‘modern times’. 1 Corinthians 1:8 talks about the ‘day of Jesus Christ’,
there referring to the entire 33 years he walked the earth. And passages such
as Malachi 4:5 and Amos 5:18-20 speak of the ‘day of the Lord’ in reference to
some future cataclysmic event.
All this doesn’t begin to exhaust the variety of ways in which Scripture
employs the word ‘day’. The point is that, just as in English today, the word
had a multiplicity of meanings.
So what does the Bible mean when it says, for example, that on the first
day God created light? I’m going to leave this question open for the moment
and will only pause to say that many argue that it means a literal, definite
24 hour period of time, while others claim it is referring to geological or
evolutionary periods many thousands or even millions of years long. We will
simply note for now that what we see in the biblical accounts is successive
periods of time in which various aspects of the universe were created.
The second limitation the creation accounts impose is found in the word
‘kind’. In Genesis 1:21 we read ‘So God created the great creatures of the
sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to
their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.’ Again in verse 24
‘God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:
livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each
according to its kind.”‘ And elsewhere we find similar statements as well.
As with the word ‘day’ we find here that we are dealing with an imprecise
word. Though we cannot tell exactly what it means, one effect it does seem to
have is to restrict the limits of creation to that of, say, speciation; in
contradistinction to modern evolutionary thought which sees all life, in all
its forms, emerging from a single, simple primordial life form, the biblical
account seems to see life as having existed within various categories or
species from the beginning.
In any summary of the doctrine of creation one must note that there is
something unique about the creation of man. Not only was man the final
creation, but it is man alone of all creation the account declares fashioned
in the image of God.
There is yet a fourth item that must be noted: In Genesis 1:9 we read the
account of the creation of land and sea, which concludes with ‘And God saw
that it was good.’ In verse 12, in summarizing the creation of plant life, we
read ‘And God saw that it was good. Again, the account in vs. 18 of the
creation of the heavenly bodies ends with ‘And God saw that it was good.’ And
we find the same statement after the creation of sea life (verse 21) and land-
roving animals (verse 25). Yet, at the conclusion of the chapter we find that
God looked back and ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’
What’s the significance of this? As each stage of creation is completed,
God pronounces it good. But in verse 31, as God surveys all that he has made,
everything functioning properly and in order, he declares it ‘very good’.
What is meant by ‘good’? Certainly it may be taken to mean many things, but
contained within the concept are certainly ideas of harmony, purpose,
usefulness and moral good, together with the realization that nothing was
inherently harmful or painful. This is at least a part of what was noted in
the discussion on the world view of the biblical writers: that they saw the
world as created good.
And a final comment on the biblical data for the doctrine of creation: the
universe was created to exist under the control of God. God had no intention
of being a sort of cosmological absentee landlord, but rather created the
universe to operate optimally under his divine guidance and control.
Computers for Christ – Chicago