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Chapter Commentary

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2 And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.9 And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.11 And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit-trees bearing fruit after their kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth: and it was so.12 And the earth brought forth grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after their kind: and God saw that it was good.13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years:15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.16 And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.17 And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth,18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.20 And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.21 And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that moveth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind: and God saw that it was good.22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so.25 And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the ground after its kind: and God saw that it was good.26 And 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 birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.27 And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.28 And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food:30 and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.31 And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Chapter Introduction

Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theologial Interpretation of Genesis 1-3.  London: SCM Press, 1959. 

Calvin, John.  Commentaries on the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis.  Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847. 

Edwards, Jonathan.  "Notes on the Bible," in The Works of President Edwards (Worcester, MA: 1830). 

Ginzberg, Louis.  The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 1.  Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society ot North America, 1909.   

Henry, Matthew.  In William Jenks, ed., Comprehensive Commentary of the Holy BIble. Vol. 1.  Brattleboro, VT: Fessenden, 1835. 

Keil, C. F., and F. Delitzsch.  Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1.  Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1846. 

Louth, Andrew, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Genesis 1-11.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. 

Luther, Martin. Luther's Works; Volume 1, Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5.  St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing, 1955. 

McGee, J. Vernon.  Thru the Bible.  5 vols.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1981. 

Origen.  Homilies on Genesis and Exodus.  Trans. Ronald E. Heine.  Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1981. 

Sailhamer, John H.  "Genesis," in Fran E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 3-284.

Von Rad, Gerhard.  Genesis: A Commentary.  Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1961. 

Wenham, Gordon.  Genesis 1-15; Word Biblical Commentary.  Waco, TX: Word, 1987. 

Westermann, Claus.  Genesis 1-11: A Commentary.  Trans. John J. Scullian.  Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1984.   

The placement of the story of creation at the beginning of the Book of Genesis shows that creation is central to Old Testament faith.  Genesis 1 is unique in the Old Testament and could be compared with the psalms that praise God's work in creation (Psalms 8, 136, 148),and with passages such as Prov 8:22-31 or Job 38 that express the greatness and majesty of God's creativity.  Gordon Wenham writes: "It is indeed a great hymn, setting out majestically the omnipotence of the creator, but it surpasses these other passages in the scope and comprehensiveness of vision."  Claus Westermann refers to it the opening chapter as "a majestic festive overture."  Genesis 1 shows us that that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not a localized or tribal deity.  Instead the Israelites' God is indeed the Lord of all.  Hence this chapter rejects the localized notion of deity that one found among ancient Babylonians, Canaanites, and Egyptians.  It also summons the reader to submit to and worship the true God (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 10). 

The orderliness described and exhibited in this passage may be reduced to two fundamental principles: separation and dominion.  God first creates, then distinguishes various elements of his creation from one another, and finally appoints one element as head over the others (though all in his eyes are equally "good").  The principle of dominion is in a sense a further extension of the principle of separation; it means that two things may be distinguished not only on the level of their natures but on the level of authority.  Wenham notes that separation is a key principle in this chapter.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament, separation becomes almost synonymous with election (Lev. 20:24; Num. 8:14; Dt. 4:41, 10:8; 1 Kings 8:53).

Thus from a formless void God creates and then separates light from darkness, and water from land.  God creates vegatation which reproduces according to kind (implying that each kind of vegetation has been distinguished from the rest), lights which are divided into lesser and greater (separation and dominion at work), and all animals which are distinguished in terms of three categories - fish, birds, and land animals.  The phrase "after their kind," which indicates distinctions among living things, occurs in all ten times (vv. 11,12,12,21,21,24,24,25,25,25). 

If the passage describes the order of creation, the text itself exhibits order in a remarkable fashion.  God's forming of a cosmos from a chaos is itself recounted with meticulous order. Omitting all that is merely explanatory or incidental, the basic pattern of God's creative activity may be outlined as followed, according to day:

Day 1                                       Day 4

A. God said.                            A. God said.

B. It was so.                            B. It was so.

C. God saw.                             C. God made, placed.

D. God separated.                    D. God saw. 

E. God called.                           E. Evening and morning.

F. Evening and morning.                

Day 2                                      Day 5

A. God said.                             A. God said.

B. God made, separated.           B. God created.

C. It was so.                             C. God saw.

D. God called.                           D. God blessed.

E. Evening and morning.             E. Evening and morning.

Day 3                                       Day 6

(Part One)                                (Part One)

A. God said.                              A. God said.

B. It was so.                              B. It was so.

C. God called.                            C. God made.

D. God saw.                               D. God saw.

(Part Two)                                 (Part Two)

A. God said.                              A. God said.

B. It was so.                              B. God created.

C. God saw.                               C. God blessed, said to them.

D. Evening and morning.             D. God said.

                                                E. It was so.

                                                F. God saw.

                                                G. Evening and morning.  

The overall pattern of the days is conspicuous.  A connection exists between days one and three, two and five, three and six.

J. Vernon McGee notes that Genesis 1 teaches that God created the world "for His own pleasure."  "He saw fit to create it; He delighted in it" (McGree, Thru the Bible, 1:12).  The final book of the Bible, no less than Genesis, shows us that God is to be praised for his work as Creator of all things: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11).  That all existing things have come forth from God's creative work is affirmed in John 1:3: "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."

Brief Quotations

"We cannot speak of the beginning; where the beginning begins our thinking stops, it comes to an end . . . In thinking of the beginning thinking collapses" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

"If therefore we inquire, how it happens that the earth is fruitful, that the germ is produced from the seed, that fruits come to maturity, and their various kinds are annually reproduced; no other cause will be found, but that God has once spoken, that is, has issued his eternal decree" (John Calvin).

"God was pleased in the first state of the creation to show that the creature is in itself; that in itself it is wholly empty and vain, that is fulness or goodness is not in itself, but in him, and in the communications of his Spirit, animating, quickening, adorning, replenishing, and blessing all things" (Jonathan Edwards).

"The whole of creation was called into existence by God unto His glory,and each creature has its own hymn of praise wherewith to extol the Creator" (Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews).

"If the work of grace in the soul is a new creation, this chaos represents the state of the unregnerate graceless soul: there is disorder, confusion, and every evil work; it is empty of all good, for it is without God; it is dark, it is darkness itself. This is our condition by nature, till almighty grace effects a blessed change" (Matthew Henry).

"He that feeds his birds will not starve his babes" (Matthew Henry).

"The beauty and harmony, of God's works, both of providence and grace . . . will best appear when they are perfected . . . Therefore judge nothing before the time" (Matthew Henry).

"Life is a wasting thing. Its strength is not the strength of stones. it is a candle that will burn out, if it be not first blown out; and therefore the wise Creator not only made individuals, but provided for the the propagation of the several kinds" (Matthew Henry).

"The first of all visible beings which God created was light; not that by it he himself might see to work (for the darkness and light are both alike to him), but that by it we might see his works and his glory in them . . . Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe. Like the first-born, it does, of all visible beings, most resemble its great Parent in purity and power, brightness and beneficence; it is of great affinity with a spirit, and is next to it" (Matthew Henry).

"To create is to command" (Martin Luther).

Prior to the fall of humanity, Adam had "the most beautiful tranquility of mind, without any fear of death and without any anxiety." What is more, "the sun was brighter, the water purer, the trees more fruitful, and the fields more fertile" (Martin Luther).

"As a praise of God's grace, the theme of . . . the Creation account (1:2-2:25) is God's gift of the land" (John Sailhamer).

Genesis 1 "is indeed a great hymn, setting out majestically the omnipotence of the creator" (Gordon Wenham).

Genesis 1 is "a majestic fesive overture" to the Bible (Claus Westernmann).


In Genesis 1, the Creator of all things is identified under the name Elohim (1:1), and the author seems confident this Creator God will not be confused with any other deity.  The Creator is one and the same with the one known later in Genesis as "the God of the Fathers," and the God of the covenant given at Sinai.  There may a polemic against idolatry in the very first verse of the Bible.  Other scripture passages declare that God alone--Israel's God--is the one and only Creator of the heavens and the earth, while the idolatrous deities of the ancient Near East have created nothing (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 20). "The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens" (Jer. 10:11).  "For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens" (Ps. 96:5).

The tone of this passage is sublime and serene.  God brings the world into existence in accordance with his sheer will; he is the undisputed and unchallenged Lord over all.  Genesis 1 stands in marked contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern accounts of origin, which place the beginning of the world in a violent conflict, in blood and guts.  The whole narrative is pervaded by a sense of orderliness, which might be said to be the defining characteristic of this account.  Gerhard Von Rad notes that ancient Israel had demarcated itself from the various cosmological myths of the Ancient Near East.  These centered on a procreation or reproduction of one god or goddess by others, and often depicted conflict, violence, and even murder among the gods and goddesses.  According to the ancient Greek myth of origins, Zeus became the chief god only after castrating his own father, Chronos.  Israel's God, by contrast, is "the one who is neither warrior nor procreator, who alone is worthy of the predicate, Creator" (Von Rad, Genesis, 47).  Israel's God is Creator, not Procreator. 

The Babylonian epic of world origin, known as Enuma Elish, recounts how the Babylonian national denity--Marduk--fights against the monster of chaos, known as Tiamat.  The word Tiamat is cognate to the Hebrew term for "the deep" (tehom, Gen. 1;2).  Personified as female, she is an abyss of waterly chaos, that must be defeated before the world can be fashioned.  Marduk struggled with Tiamat, kills her, and then dismembers her body.  He tears the roof her threatening mouth apart from her jaw.  From the former he makes the heavens above, and from the latter the earth beneath.  An examination of Enuma Elish thus shows how radically different the Hebrew account of creation is.  Yale University scholar, Brevard Childs, refers to Genesis 1 as a "broken myth."  There is a hint as to the mythic conception of the dragon of chaos in the brief reference to "the deep" in Gen. 1:2.  Yet the thrust of the passage is to emphasize the utter and absolute supremacy of God over all that he creates. 

In the Babylonian account of origins, Marduk is seen in relation to the Babylonians, and not in relation to all the other nations.  One of the features that sets the biblical account apart from the others is its universal character.   It is not an account of how God created Israelits, but of how God created human beings.  It is not until Gen. 12, in the call of Abraham, that we find a focus on one national, ethnic, or tribal group. By implication, the Israelites' God is the Lord of all.  Genesis breaks with the localized notion of deity that one found among ancient Babylonians, Canaanites, and Egyptians(Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 10). 

History of Interpretation

Jewish tradition held that Genesis 1 was an especially important text in the Hebrew Bible and yet possibly a dangerous one.  Only those with sufficient spiritual maturity were to turn their attention to Genesis 1.  The ancient Christian author Jerome, made reference to the Jewish tradition to the effect that no one under the age of thirty was allowed to expound the first chapter of the Bible (Martin Luther, Luther's Works, 1:3; citing Jerrome, Epistle 53 [to Paulinus], in PL 22,547).  (Much the same view was belived regarding Ezekiel 1--recounting the prophet's vision of the heavenly creatures around God's throne.)

In Jewish tradition, God did not set out to create the world without seeking counsel with the Torah.  Torah advised God, saying: "O Lord, a king without an army and without courtiers and attendants hardly deserves the name of king, for none is nigh to express the homage due to him."  This answer pleased God, and so God by his own example taught all earthly kings to do nothing without first seeking counsel from others.  The angels, in Jewish lore, were not created on the first day but on the second.  God acted this way so that mankind would not mistakenly believe that the angels had assisted God in the creating of the world.  Matthew Henry refers to the Jewish tradition of seven things that pre-existed the creation of the world--the law, repentance, paradise, hell, the throne of glory, the house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah. 

Jewish teaching on Genesis 1 insisted that all things created by God have value.  "Even the animals and the insects that seem useless and noxious at first sight have a vocation to fulfill.  The smail trailing a moist streak after it as it crawls, and using using up its vitality, serves as a remedy for boils.  The sting of a hornet is healed by the house-fly crushed and applied to the wound."  Not only do these creatures bring healing and comfort to humankind, but God also "teacheth us through the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wise through the fowls of heaven." So we see that "the whole of creation was called into existence by God unto His glory,and each creature has its own hymn of praise wherewith to extol the Creator."  The sun says: "The sun stood still and the moon stopped" (Josh. 10:12).  The stars sing: "You have made heaven . . . with all their host."  The tree declares: "Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy" (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 1:8,16,33,34).  Later, in medieval Christian tradition, books about animals--called beastiaries--were written to identify the moral and spiritual lessons that could be learned from animals.  Hints in this direction appear in scripture.  "Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise" (Prov. 6:6).  "Observe how the lilies of the field grow" (Mt. 6:28).      

There is a rather technical issue in the interpretation of Gen. 1:1.  If the Hebrew is taken in the "absolute state," then the rendering is: "In the beginning God created."  Alternatively, if the Hebrew is in the construct state, then the rendering would be: "When God set about to create the heavens and the earth--the world being then a formless waste . . . ."  Potentially the second rendering might call into question the doctrine of creation from nothing, since it suggests that a mass of unformed material was already present when God performed his initial act of creating.  The medieval Jewish scholars Rashi and Ibn Ezra both read Gen. 1:1 not in the "absolute" but in the "contruct" state.  Yet, as Sailhamer points out, both of these scholars were drawn to their interpretations not on the basis of grammar per se but because of their philosophical assumptions.  In short, Sailhamer supports the mainstream view that Gen. 1:1 is in the "absolute" state (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 21-3).

In the history of Christian thought, the first chapter of Genesis found a special place.  Commentaries on the work of God in the six days of creation were published under the title, Hexaemeron, from the Greek words meaning six days.  Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and Ambrose (ca. 339-397) are among those who preached or wrote on the Hexameron.  The great Augustine of Hippo (354-430) also produced two works on Genesis, On Genesis According to the Letter, and On Genesis Against the Manichees

Origen cited the opening words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and suggested that the "beginning" in this case had to be Christ himself.  Thus Genesis 1 is not speaking about a "temporal beginning" but rather about a beginning of all things "in the Savior" (Origen, Homilies, 47).  John Calvin later rejected Origen's viewpoint as too speculative or subtle.  Origen took the waters--separated from the dry land--as representing the sins and vices of the body.  The sun and moon symbolize Christ and the church, for Origen, while the stars are symbols of the saints and the prophets (Louth, Genesis 1-11,12,16). 

Basil insisted that the meaning of creation is known by divine revelation.  God is the one who makes this known to us.  Through Moses, as John Chyrsostom writes, God revealed the beginning of all things, and this account should be trusted.  John Chrysostom notes that while other biblical authors wrote of what happened in their day, or shortly thereafter, or at the end of history, Moses was inspired by God to describe what happened at the beginning of the world (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 3). 

Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine all insisted that the creation took place in Christ.  This of course is a major point in John 1, which picks up the very language of Genesis 1--"in the beginning"--and yet modifies this language by focusing it on the eternal Logos or Word (Jn. 1:1-3) that later became incarnate in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14).   Jesus Christ himself is the beginning of all things, according to Origen, and this is the meaning of the biblical phrase "first-born of all creation" (Col. 1:15) (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 1).  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Creation and Fall, took a similar position, arguing that Genesis 1 is not describing a temporal beginning, properly speaking.)

Basil denied the view of the Manichees that the form of created things came forth from God, while the matter of which they are made was present already when God began the work of creating.  Such of view, of course, is inconsistent with the nothing of creation from nothing (ex nihilo).  Basil instead teaches that both the form and the matter come forth from God.  Nemesius of Emesa also taught creation from nothing.  Basil insists that the condition of things prior to creation is "too lofty a subject" for us to comment on, and that we can say nothing about it.  The physical world was created subsequent to the creation of "pure intelligences" that are above our capacity to understand.  This material realm was temporal rather than eternal, and included beings that are destined to perish.  The phrase "in the beginning" does not imply that there was not and could have have been anything prior to what is described as created in Genesis 1 (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 2-3).

Hiliary of Poitiers and Augustine held to the speculative view that the world was made not over the course of six literal days but created instantaneously (Martin Luther, Luther's Works 1:4; citing Hilary, On the Trinity, 12.40, and Augustine, On Genesis According to the Letter, 4.33).  The creation was portrayed as a six days' process in accommodation to human understanding.  Augustine suggested that the initial references in Genesis 1 to "heaven" and "earth" are in fact references to the "formless matter of the universe," which received from God its form.  In fact, "water" is a way of speaking about the formless matter that was arranged by God.  After creating all these things, God distinguished them from one another.  Sin brought a drastic change in the created world, according to Augustine.  Poisonous and thorny plants did not even exist until after the fall of humanity into sin(Louth, Genesis 1-11, 1,4,14).   

For Jerome, the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the deep (Gen. 1:2) is a prefiguration of baptism.  Ephrem the Syrian compares the Spirit to a mother bird that hovers over the water to bring forth God's purposes.  Ephrem states that the six days are not allegorical but are accurate descriptions.  Ambrose stresses that God is the author of light, and that God approves of the early stages of his own work, in knowledge of the completed work that was as yet unfinished.  Ambrose held that the invisible world of the angels was already in existence at the time that God created the visible universe (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 4,7,8,9). 

John Chrysostom held that the light created on the first day was later transferred to the heavenly bodies, which functioned as receptacles for this primordial light (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 16).  Luther later makes reference to this view.  Chysostom maintained that a "day" of creation could not be reduced to an instant but rather implied a process over time.  Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzen were both interested in the sequence of the six days of Genesis 1, with Nyssa teaching that the days proceeded from lower to higher forms of being (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 43).

The early church authors had much to say about man's creation "in the image of God."  Many authors, following the New Testament, identify the image of God as Christ himself, so that the image of God in Adam, as Clement of Alexandria says, is the "image of the image." (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 27).  The early author, Irenaeus (ca. 115-ca. 202), of Lyons in France, distinguished the "image" of God (Gen. 1:26) from the "likeness" of God.  Human beings, he held, were created in the "image" of God at the very beginning and also had a "likeness" to God.  Humanity fell into sin, and this meant that the "image" remained though the "likeness" was lost.  Only in the final redemption and glorification in Christ will humanity be in both the "image" and "likness" of God.  This two-fold reading of "image and likeness" prevailed in Catholic thought, and it was a way of explaining what was lost, and what retained, by human beings after the fall.  Protestant exegetes, by and large, identified "image" with "likeness," holding that the two phrases are the kind of poetic parallelism or repetition that is common in Hebrew poetry.  The implication was that human beings lost both the "image" and the "likeness," and that both are only restored though God's redeeming work in Christ.

Some of the early Christian authors puzzled over the command to be fruitfut and multiply prior to the fall.  John Chrysostom held that sexual intercourse did not take place prior to the fall of Adam and Eve, who were living "a life like that of the angels."  The implication for Chrysostom and some others was that there must have been some means of propagating and multiplying the human race other than sexual intercourse.  Basically, the unfallen Adam and Eve were a virginal couple.  Augustine came to the opposing view that sexual differentiation and copulation were a part of God's original plan for humankind, even though the fall intervened (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 37).  The mark of fallen sexuality, for Augustine, was the loss of control.  Men and women experienced sexual arousal against their wishes, at the wrong times, and with the wrong persons. 

Martin Luther tells us that Genesis 1 is written in the "simplest language" and yet tells of matters that are both important and difficult to grasp.  Human reasoning, as we see in Aristotle, holds that the world did not begin in time but was eternal.  Plato, in contrast to Aristotle, came closer to the truth than did Aristotle, in his suggestion that the world had a beginning and that it was composed of matter (Luther's Works, 1:3-4; see Plato's Timaeus).  As a hen broods over her eggs, so the Spirit--whose office is to give life--brooded over the waters to bring new life and to quicken what God created (Luther's Works, 1:9). 

Encountering the plural references to God in Genesis 1 (see esp. Gen. 1:26), Martin Luther rejected the Jewish idea that this was properly a "plural of majesty."  This plural of majesty--in which a king or nobleman referrred to himself as "we"--was properly a German custom and yet not a custom among the ancient Hebrews.  The idea that "let us" refers to God together with the angels is maintained by Rabbi Ibn Ezra (and later by the Socinians, who rejected the Trinity).  This is another idea that Luther rejected, along with other Christian commentators.  He asks: "What concern is the creation of man to the angels?"  Luther sees an anticipation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the plural reference of Gen. 1:26.  To be sure, this truth is revealed only obscurely in Genesis, and it is made clear in the coming of Jesus Christ.  Luther, like Calvin, is not keen on the elaborate theories offered in Augustine's On the Trinity, to the effect that that human nature contains within itself (e.g., in memory, will, and understanding) an image of the Holy Trinity (Luther's Works, 1:12, 57-9).   

As to whether the creation took place in the fall or the spring (!), Luther notes that the Jewish rabbis (as cited by Nicholas of Lyra) took two different views, one highlighting the sprouting of vegetation (and thus supporting a spring creation), and the other highlighting the fruits mentioned (and thus supporting a fall creation).  Luther does not take a view one way or another (Luther's Works, 1:37). 

Genesis 1, says Luther, shows the earth to be an "equipped home" for humankind.  God thus showed his "care and solicitude" for us every before we came into existence.  Similarly, in God's plan of redemption there are mansions prepared for us in advance, even before we arrive in heaven (Jn. 14:2).  God thus enriches us before we are able to care for ourselves, and this should be a focus of our admiration and contemplation (Luther's Works, 1:39).

One of the striking themes in Luther's exposition is his exalted idea of Adam's capacities before his fall into sin.  Both is "inner and outer sensations" were "of the purest kind."  His intellect, memory, and will were all of a superior order and he showed "the most beautiful tranquillity of mind, without any fear of death and without any anxiety."  Moreover, his eyes were sharper than those of an eagle or lynx, and his strength was greater than that of a lion or bear.  Yet this all came to an end when the "leprosy" of sin entered in, and humanity lost the image of God in which it had been created.  What is more, when humanity fell, nature fell too.  Prior to the fall, Adam "could command a lion with a single word, just as we give a command to a trained dog."  Luther states: "I hold that before sin the sun was brighter, the water purer, the trees more fruitful, and the fields more fertile."  The good news is that the gospel brings a restoration of the image of God in humanity (Luther's Works, 1:62-3).

While no beast receives any dominion from God, Adam and Eve receive dominion from God.  Woman, as well as man, shares in this dominion.  Without any "weapons and walls" Adam and Eve were able to rule over beasts, birds, and fish.  Yet because of the fall of humanity into sin, "dominion" is now a bare word, and indeed we hardly understand what is meant by the term.  We await the unfulfilled promises of dominion and life as they were given to Adam (Luther's Works, 67,69).  When did Adam sin?  Luther mentions the theory that Adam sinned on the sixth day of creation--that is, the day of Adam's own creation.  Luther says that he is not sure, and that it may have been the seventh day on which sin occurred (Luther's Works, 1:70).

John Calvin, in a way that is characteristic of his commentaries, seeks to avoid subtle speculation about the origin of all things and says that "to expound the term 'beginning' of Christ, is altogether frivolous" (First Book of Moses, 69).  This is almost certainly a direct rejection of Origin's teaching that "in the beginning" should be interpreted as "in Christ."  The point here is just that "the world was made out of nothing.  Hence we see the error of those "who imagine that unformed matter exited from eternity" (70).  This is a view often attributed to Aristotle and to some of Aristotle's followers in the High Middle Ages (e.g., Boethius of Dacia, Siger of Brabant, and the Averroists). 

Calvin also takes aim against Origen and others of the church fathers who held that creation, though represeted in Genesis 1 as occurring over six days, in fact took place in an instant of time.  After noting the phrase "night and day" in Gen. 1:5, Calvin adds: "Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment.  For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses disributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction" (First Book of Moses, 78).  

While insisting on the sovereignty of God in creating, Calvin nonetheless noted that in Gen. 1:11 the phrasing is a command of God given to the earth--"let the earth sprout vegetation" (Gen. 1:11).  This leads Calvin into a reflection on the role and importance of "secondary causes" in the creatife process.  "The First Cause is self-sufficient . . . but, in reality, we picture God to ourselves as poor or imperfect, unless he is assisted by second causes" (First Book of Moses, 82).

Taking aim at the practice of astrology, that was prevalent in the 1500s, John Calvin writes that "I call those men Chaldeans and fanatics, who divine everything from the aspects of the stars."  Gen. 1:14 states that the sun and moon were appointed by God "for signs," but this does not mean that they were "signs" of just anything we might imagine.  Indeed, they are "signs" of "things belonging to the order of nature," and there is nothing in the text suggesting anything beyond this.  Calvin goes on to commend the proper study of asronomy (which was only in its infancy in his day).  "For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God."  Calvin makes it clear that he is in no way anti-scientific.  At the same time he teaches that Genesis does not aim at giving a technical scientific account of the cosmos, since such a treatment would have been baffling to "the uneducated" (First Book of Moses, 84, 86-7).  Calvin also dismisses certain views, such as "the reverie of Plato, who ascribes reason and intelligence to the stars." 

Calvin refers to humanity--citing the phrase of the ancients--as a microcosm or a world in miniature.  Such is the excellence of the human being that he is a universe in himself.  In discussing the words "image" and "likeness" (Gen. 1:26), Calvin sees this simply as an instance of Hebraic parallellism: "It was customary with the Hebrews to repeat the same thing in different words."  Thus Calvin rejects the idea of eary Christian teachers that "image" and "likeness" were distinguished from one another.  Calvin does not agree with John Chysostom tha the "image of GOd" in man refers primarily to the dominion that human beings have over the non-human realm--a viewpoint in favor among many twentieth-century commentators.  Clavin begins from the presumption that the image is something lost, and that therefore it is only in the restoration of the image that we learn what it actually was in the beginning.  In the New Testament, spiritual regeneration is the restoration of God's images in us (Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:23).  "Therefore by this word the perfection of our whole nature is designated, as it appeared when Adam was endued with a right judgment, had affections in harmony with reason, had all his senses sound and well-regulated, and truly excelled in everything good. Thus the chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent: yet was there no part of him in which some scintillations of it did not shine forth."  Calvin goes on to state that God's blessing of humanity is the basis of all human existence.  "This blessing of God may be regarded as the source from which the human race has flowed" (First Book of Moses, 92, 94-5, 97).  In God's wisdom, God caused all humanity to come forth from a single root: "God could himself indeed have covered the earth with a multitude of men; but it was his will that we shold proceed from one fountain, in order that our desire of mutual concord might be the greater, and that each might the more freely embrace the other as his own flesh."  Also God intended for humanity to propagate itself through sexual relations, yet not "as in brute animals, by promiscuous intercourse," but rather in monogamous marriage (First Book of Moses, 97-8).

Along with other commentators, Matthew Henry notes that there is no explicit reference in Genesis 1 to the creation of the angels: "It is the visible part of the creation that Moses here designs to account for; therefore he mentions not the creation of angels."  This first chapter of the Bible shows us the "great variety" of the created world, its "great beauty," "great power," "great order," and "great mystery."  Genesis 1 teaches creation from nothing: "There was not any pre-existent matter out of which the world was produced.  The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing . . . By the almighty power of God, it is not ony possible that something should be made out of nothing (the God of nature is not subject to the laws of nature), but in the creation it is impossible it should be otherwise, for nothing is more injurious to the honour of the Eternal Mind than the supposition of eternal matter." 

Matthew Henry insists that Genesis 1 shows us the folly of the atheists.  For "they see that is a world that could not make itself, and yet they will not own there is a God that made it."  The chapter also shows us that God does not need the creature and the creature's services.  Since God made all creatures, creatures do not add anything to God that God does not possess in and of himself (Acts 17:24-5).  The world shows us not only the original creative work of God but God's continued providential work.  "Common providence is a continued creation," and "the earth still remains under the efficacy of this command, to bring forth grass, and herbs, and its annual products."  To be sure, "these are not standing miracles, yet they are standing instances of the unwearied power and unexhausted goodness of the world's great Maker and Master."  The blessing of God is necessary for the continuance of life, as Matthew Henry explains: "Life is a wasting thing.  Its strength is not the strength of stones.  it is a candle that will burn out, if it be not first blown out; and therefore the wise Creator not only made individuals, but provided for the the propagation of the several kinds. . . Fruitfulness is the effect of God's blessing and must be ascribed to it; the multiplying of the fish and fowl, from year to year, is still the fruit of this blessing."

Matthew Henry goes on to say that "man's creation was a more signal and immediate act of divine wisdom and power than that of the other creatures.  The narrative of it is introduced with something of solemnity, and a manifest distinction from the rest . . . now the word of command is turned into a word of consultation."    

Verse by Verse Exegesis


v. 1.  "In the beginning God."  As the rest of the the Bible makes abundantly clear, we can as well say "In the end, God."  "For from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36)."  Here it is intended that we should understand God to be the source of all that exists.  "Heavens and earth" are coordinate terms which taken together are all-embracing.  "God created the heavens and the earth" means simply that "God created everything" (Wenham, Genesis 1-11, 10).  The stress lies on the totality of the creation in this first verse, though as one proceeds through the chapter, the organization of the cosmos becomes quite apparent.  See Jn. 1:3 for an explicit assertion that all things derive from God.  

On the question of reading the Hebrew here as "absolute" or "construct," see the discussion under "History of Interpretation."

"Created."  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the verb here for create (bara') is used only with God as subject.  That is, only God is said to "create."  It is God's unique and distinctive work to create anything.  No creature every creates, at any point in biblical teaching.  The term for "create" (Hebr. bara') appears three times in Genesis 1 to refer to three distinct creative actions of God.  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (1:1).  "So God created the great sea creatures and every living thing that moves" (1:21).  "So God created man in his own image" (1:27).  These statements, taken together, imply that all manner of living things came forth by divine creation (McGree, Thru the Bible, 1:12). 


Gerhard Von Rad rightly notes that, following the lapidary statement of the first verse regarding divine creation, the second verse of the chapter seems "almost a step backward."  This has led some to the speculative notion of a "gap" between v. 1 and v. 2, according to which there was a world exisitng prior to the one formed in Genesis 1.  On this account, the creation of Genesis 1 is in fact a re-creation or restoration of a previous though ruined world that antedated the world we now live in.  While Franz Delitzsch provides a classic statement of the "gap theory" in his System of Biblical Psychology, Von Rad rejects it as a fanciful notion: "The assumption . . . of a cosmic Luciferlike plunge of the creation from its initial splendor is linguistically and objectively quite impossible."  Gerhand Von Rad points out that Genesis 1 points us toward the danger of an "abyss of formlessness."  The created order is ever in danger of sinking into this formlessness, and it has continual need of the Creator to sustain it in its present state of order.  "We see here that the theological thought of ch. 1 moves not so much between the poles of nothingness and creation as between the poles of chaos and cosmos" (Von Rad, Genesis, 48-9). 

"The Earth."  The unformed chaos is called "earth" proleptically, i.e., in light of what it was to become through the exercise of the divine creative power.  Strictly speaking it was not until the third day that "the earth" was made.  Matthew Henry comments on the gradual method employed by God in creation: "The Creator could have made his work perfect at first, but by this gradual proceeding he would show what is, ordinarily, the method of his providence and grace" (Henry).  The prophet Jeremiah later records how the earth had been rendered virtually "formless and void" by the sorry weight of human sin (Jer. 4:23).

"Formless and Void."  Von Rad writes (Genesis, 47) that  tohu wa bohu means "the formless," that is, "the primeval waters over which darkness was superimposed," whie "tehom ('sea of chaos') is the cosmic abyss."  The "damp primeval element" depicted here, was "agitated by a dvine storm" (cf. Dan. 7:2).  As Wenham points out (15), bohu ("waste") can mean "nothingness" (e.g., Is. 29:21), or else, as here, "chaos, disorder," most frequently applied to the untracked desert where a man can lose his way and die" (Dt. 32:10; Job 6:18). 

The church fathers described the "void" as nihil negativum and not nihil privativum--which latter term implies that "nothing" serves as a kind of "primal" matter for the creator.  Bonhoeffer's understanding of the "void" as something overcome and vanquished by God runs parallel to the idea of the monster of "chaos" overcome by God in creating the world.  We have then in the present passage a "broken myth."

J. Vernon McGee notes the appearance of the phrase "without form" (Hebr. tohu) in Isaiah 45:18, where it says that God did not make the world "in vain."  God, that is, made the world to be a cosmos and not a chaos; he made the world to be inhabited, and it is because of God that the world is habitable and not "formless" (McGee, Thru the Bible, 1:13).

"Darkness."  If light is a symbol of God, then it is darkness that evokes everything that is anti-God.  This includes the wicked (Prov. 2:13), judgment (Exod 10:21), and death (Ps 88:13).  Darkness is associated with disorder, either physical or moral (1 Jn. 1:5).  Wenham notes that darkness, even though not said to be created by God, is still named by God, and for God to name this darkness means that God has dominion over the darkness (Genesis 1-11, 16,19).

"The Spirit."  A longstanding interpretive question hinges on whether ruach elohim means "Spirit of God" or else "mighty wind."  In the latter case, the phrase is just a further description of the void.  Wenham gives reasons for thinking that this phrase is better translated as "Spirit of God."  Note that this is the first reference in the Bible to the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit here is not passive but quite active and dynamic.  Of the three persons of the Triune God, the Spirit appears in greatest proximity to the chaos, and thereby manifests the presence and power of God.  The Spirit of God was thus the "first mover."  God is not only the author of all being, but the fountain of all life and the principle of all movement and change.  In other passages God is said to make the world by his Spirit (Ps. 33:6; Job. 26:13).  By the same mighty Agent the work of the new creation also is effected.       

The much disputed term applied to the Spirit, merahepet, is not to be translated as "brood," but rather, according to Dt. 32:11 and Jer. 23:9, as "vibrate," "tremble," "move," or "stir."  See also Dan. 7:2 for a parallel (Von Rad, Genesis, 47).  Sailhamer notes that the term merahepet would not fit the translation of ruach as "wind" but requires that one interpret it as "Spirit" (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 25).


"Let there be . . . "  No less than ten times in this chapter we find the phrase, "let there be."  Thi is the first time in scripture that God is said to speak.  The astonishing power of God appears in the unimpeded force of his command.  He speaks a word, and there is a world.  With us saying and doing are two different things, but not so with God: "For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast (Ps. 33:9)."  Here there is no suggestion of struggle in the origin of the world-- quite unlike the Ancient Near Eastern myths which see the present world as the result of a primordial conflict or slaughter between rival gods.  Here the resistless chaos immediately responds to the divine summons.  All things comes into being from the original emptiness by the unlimited power of God.   Note that the text says, "God said," and not "God commanded."  A mere word, a simple utterance from God is all that is needed for the full exhibition of God's mighty power.  God need not "raise his voice," so to speak, for his will to be accomplished.  Nonetheless the inconceivable power of God's creative word is not exercised anarchically or chaotically.  The marvelous order displayed in this passage has been remarked upon already.  Genesis 1 shows unfathomable power acting with perfect order, measure, control, and symmetry.  "Throughout Scripture the word of God is characteristically both creative and effective: it is the prophetic word that declares the future and helps it come into being" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 18). 

"The idea of creation by the word preserves first of all the most radical essential distinction between Creator and creature.  Creation cannot be even remotely considered an emanation from God; it is not somehow an overflow or reflection of his being, i.e., of his divine nature, but is rather a product of his personal will.  The only continuity between God and his work is the Word (Bonhoeffer)" (Von Rad, Genesis, 49-50). 


"Light."  Light, the closest physical analogy to God's own character, is created first of all.  Light is the sublimest element and the first of all the elementary powers.  "Without light there is no creation; only light reveals the contours of the creature blurred in darkness" (Von Rad, Genesis, 49).  At the same time, this text stresses the creatureliness of light, which is not an overflow of the divine essence, but rather an object brought into existence by the will and word of God.  Matthew Henry ruminates over God's creation of light: "The first of all visible beings which God created was light; not that by it he himself might see to work (for the darkness and light are both alike to him), but that by it we might see his works and his glory in them . . . Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe.  Like the first-born, it does, of all visible beings, most resemble its great Parent in purity and power, brightness and beneficence; it is of great affinity with a spirit, and is next to it . . . By the sight of it let us be led to, and assisted in, the believing contemplation of him who is light, infinite and eternal light (1 John i.5), and the Father of lights (James i.17), and who dwells in inaccessible light, 1 Tim. vi.16.  In the new creation, the first thing wrought in the soul is light: the blessed Spirit captivates the will and affections by enlightening the understanding . . . Those that by sin were darkness by grace become light in the world [cf. Eph. 5:8] . . . The divine light which shines in sanctified souls is wrought by the power of God, the power of his word and of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, opening the understanding, scattering the mists of ignorance and mistake, and giving the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ [cf. 2 Cor. 4:6]."  

"God saw."  He is a workman who perfectly knows the character of his work.  He saw the good creation with the same infallible perception with which he would later see the world enveloped in incorrigible human evil: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth (Gen. 6:5).  What God sees, truly is, just as he sees it to be.  "God the great artist is pictured admiring his handiwork.  This account of creation is a hymn to the creator: creation itself bears witness to the greatness and goodness of God" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 18). 

Sailhamer notes: "'Seeing' is continually put at the center of the author's conception of God.  The first name given to God within the book [of Genesis] is that of Hagar's . . . the 'God who sees'" (Gen. 16:13).  Yet in tragic reversal of this potrayal of God's "seeing" good in Genesis 1, God later is "seeing" great evil on the earth at the time of God's judgment in the flood (Gen. 6:5; Sailhamer, "Genesis," 26).

The word "good" (tob) indicates not so much an aesthetic judgment, as a designation of purpose, fitness, and correspondence (Von Rad, Genesis, 50).  Similarly, Ps. 104 tells not so much of the beauty of creation as its marvelous purpose and order.


"Called."  The first act of naming is God's naming of the light and darkness.  God not only creates, but God also names, and this naming no less than God's creating, is an expression of divine dominion.

Evening and Morning.  John Calvin comments that "God willed that there should be a regular vicissitude of days and nights" (First Book of Moses, 77).  Following the Jewish custom, according to which a new day was reckoned by sundown (rather than sunrise), the text speaks of "evening and morning" to complete "one day," rather than "morning and evening."   

Light and Darkness.  Day and night, or light and darkness, stand in an unequal relation to the divine act of creation.  Only the light is called "good," not the darkness.  "The light has poured in and has removed chaos to a gloomy condition of twilight - we must imagine the creative acts quite realistically!  Now from what has flowed together God separates the elements of light and darkness as day and night.  Both are thus creatively quite unlike.  While the day is light from the first created original light, night consists in nothing more than that darkness of chaos which was eliminated, now limited, to be sure, by wholesome cosmic order.  Every night, when the created world of forms flows together into formlessness, chaos regains a certain power over what has been created" (Von Rad, Genesis, 50-51). 

There seems to be an instinctive creaturely feeling of dread toward the night and toward darkness.  One frequently hears of people with night terrors and fears of darkness, but not often of those who fear the light and the daytime.  (Yet see Jn. 3:19-21 regarding those who "hate the light.")  Night is the time of sleeping and dreaming, and thus, on the subjective level, a time of "chaos" or dissolution, a return to the primordial unconsciousness.


In Genesis 1, God divides the water in two different ways, to bring order to the unformed world.  First, he divides the waters perpendicularly, by separating the waters above from the waters below.  Second, he divides the waters horizonally, by separating the waters of the oceans from the dry land.  The "firmament" or "expanse" is described elsewhere in the Bible as being "strong as a molten mirror" (Job 37:18 or like a "curtain" or "tent" (Is. 40:22).  John Calvin cites the proverbial phrase "to mingle heaven and earth" as referring to "the extreme of disorder."  Calvin takes the firmamant as God's means of keeping heaven and earth clearly separated from one another (First Book of Moses, 78-9).


The twin principles of division and separation--noted in the chapter introduction--are both at work here.  The separation of the waters above the firmament, no less than the separation of the oceans from the land, makes it possible for land animals and for human beings to inhabit the planet.  There is a definite human-centeredness in the narrative of Genesis 1, culminating in the description of humanity's creation later in the chapter. 


"Heaven" in scripture has multiple senses.  One might distinguish three different meanings.  First of all, "heaven" occurs in the phrase, "birds of heaven" in which these creatures move.  This is "heaven" in the sense of our earth's atmosphere.  Second, "heaven" may refer to the place where the stars are situated.  This is the cosmological "heaven," which of course we in modern times know to be immeasurably more vast than was previously imagined.  Third, "heaven" refers in a special sense to the dwelling place of God (McGee, Thru the Bible, 1:14).


John Calvin writes: "This also is an illustrious miracle, that the waters by their departure have given a dwelling-place to men" (First Book of Moses, 81).  According to his will God made the earth in distinction from the seas, and it follows as well that the various continents and islands were fashioned just as he wished.  "Whereas we view the continents as islands surrounded by oceans, the phraseology here suggests that they saw the world as dry land with seas in it . . . It was God's power that had limited the waters to certain areas (cf. Jer. 5:22) . . . When these great acts of separation were finished, God's glory was again apparent: 'It was good.'  In the flood, the bounds established at creation were overstepped, and death and chaos returned" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 20).


After the first part of day three (v. 10), there is no more statement that God "called" (i.e., named) anything, perhaps because from this point onward everything made was to be named by mankind--both the plants and the animals. 


The primary point here appears to be that the earth was carefully furnished for the maintainance of mankind.  God exercised foresight in preparing a habitat for humanity, carefully and appropriately adapted to human needs, when mankind had not as yet been created.  The earth, which had been a vast waste, by God's command became filled with bountiful fruits.  It became a cornucopia of vegetable blessing.  The earth today still stands under the efficacy of the divine command to bring forth plant life.

"The different species of plant and animal life again bear testimony to God's creative plan.  The implication, though not stated, is clear: what God has distinguished and created distinct, man ought not to confuse (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9-11).  Order, not chaos, is the hallmark of God's activity."  Wenham adds that modern readers tend to become preoccupied with scientific and historical questions about origins, yet the Old Testament suggests "a moral stance to be adopted toward the natural order.  Things are the way they are because made it so, and men and women should accept his decree" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21).


"According To Its Kind."  This phrase appears first in v. 11 and then repeats in vv. 12, 21, 24, and 25.  Commentators have noted that the biblical reference to "kind" is not necessarily equivalent to the modern biological notion of "species."  It is true that the "kind" seems to be associated with the reproductive process, but this does not mean that we should read the text in light of biological ideas.  Charles Darwin commented along these lines.  Later in the chapter it is noteworthy that humanity is not said to propagate "according to its kind."  God's deals with human beings as individuals, while his dealings with the animal world could be seen as collectivistic rather than individualistic.  (Though see Mt. 10:29 on God's knowledge and care even for a solitary sparrow.)



The creation of the sun, moon, and stars is given here at greater length than any other creation except that of humanity.  Almost certainly this is related to the importance of the astral bodies in ancient Near Eastern thought (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21).  Not only is the creation of the heavenly bodies here recorded, by the appropriate purpose to be played by them in human life.  They are to serve a lowly though indispensable function: to mark off the seasons of time. 


Day and night, seasons are years are all to be reckoned in accordance with the movements of the heavenly bodies.  They are not to be served by mankind, as objects of veneration or religious devotion, but they themselves are intended by God to serve mankind.  The description of the heavenly bodies in terms of their strictly utilitarian function, and with no trace of numinous awe towards them, shows how the stellar cult had been "demythologized" by the Biblical text.  The sun, moon, and stars are God's creatures and man's servants, not divinities alongside of God or masters to be served by mankind. 


Lesser and Greater Light.  The sun, moon, and stars are given the lowly titles, "lesser light" and "greater light," and the stars are mentioned in such a casual, off-hand manner that they seem to be an afterthought.  This serves to underscore their subordination to the God who made them; they are not gods to be served.  Wenham writes: "Its awkward avoidance of the terms 'sun and moon' also highlights the anti-mythical thurst of the passage" (Genesis 1-15, 23).   "Sun" and "moon" that is are not regarded as entities in their own right.  They are just luminaries--sources of light, with one greater than the other.     


Verses 17-18 repeat the key ideas of vv. 14-15.  The purpose of the heavenly bodies is to give light, to have dominion over the day and the night, and to distinguish light from darkness. 


Verses 17-18 show that God's three purposes (see v. 17) for the heavenly bodies have all been fulfilled.  Matthew Henry writes: "The lights of heaven do not shine for themselves, not for the world of spirits above, who need them not; but they shine for us, for our pleasure and advantage . .  Now these lights are said to rule (v. 16, 18); not that they have a supreme dominion, as God has, but they are deputy-governors, rulers under him."  It is noteworthy that only two entities within the realm of creation are said to "rule" or to "have dominion."  One of these is the heavenly bodies (sun and moon); the other is humankind. 


Martin Luther says that on this fourth day, the "crude light" of the first day was perfected through the addition of the sun, moon, and stars.  Some believe though that the "first light" continues after the ending of the first day, though it is less clearly seen than before (Luther's Works, 1:40).


The creation of the first animals is reserved to the fifth creative day.  Wenham, in reference to the phrase, "across the firmament," notes: "From the ground, the birds appear to fly against the background of the sky.  This is one of the indications in the narrative that it is written from the perspective of a human observer" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 24).


The use of the word "created" here, as in 1:1, could indicate the beginning of a new stage in the process, namely, the emergence of living things (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 35).

Special mention is made of the "great sea monsters" ("whales," KJV), as though these serve as signal illustrations of the wisdom and power of the great Creator.  The sea monsters may be mentioned to stress God's sovereignty over them.  Note the apparent use of Canaanite mythology in other texts to describe God's victory over his enemies (e.g. Is. 27:1, 51:9; Ps. 74:13; Job 7:12). 


God's blessing is given to the animals, with a view to their continuance and propagation.  Life itself comes as a gift from God, and no creature strictly lives by his own power, but his very life-breath lies in the hand of God (Dan. 5:23), to give or to take away at will.  The blessing placed upon the animals insures that their life will continue and will be replenished through reproduction.  Fruitfulness is producing offspring, here in Genesis as in the rest of Scripture, must be attributed to God as due to his blessing.  Even so "fruitfulness" in any human undertaking must also be ascribed to God, and must not be arrogated by the creature himself.  Sailhamer writes: "The blessing of the creatures of the sea and sky is identical with the blessing of man, with the exception of the notion of 'dominion,' which is given only to man" (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 35).

John Calvin notes the difference between a divine blessing--that works efficaciously--and a human blessing--that seeks to bring about an effect but often fails to do so: "He therefore blesses his creatures when he commands them to increase and grow; that is, he infuses into them fecundity by his word" (First Book of Moses, 90).


Matthew Henry writes: "We do not read of the creation of any living creature till the fifth day . . . The work of creation not only proceeded gradually from one thing to another, but rose and advanced gradually from that which was less excellent to that which was more so." 


One notes here that God does not command "let there be" but "let the earth bring forth." Thus the command of God seemingly does not directly bring forth the "living creatures" but rather actuates the earth's capacity to produce.


One of the curious features in this text is the absence of reference to a blessing upon the land animals.  Birds and fish are blessed (v. 22) and humanity is also blessed (v. 28), but not, it seems, the land creatures.


"Hitherto God has been introduced simply as commanding; now, when he approaches the most excellent of all his works, he enters into consultation" (John Calvin, First Book of Moses, 91). 

Wenham explains that God's purposes for humanity are described in a series of verses--v. 26a, God announces his intention to create humanity.  v. 26b, the purpose of humanity's creation is to rule the earth, v. 27, the creation of humanity, v. 28, the blessing on humankind to breed and to rule over the earth, v. 29, the assignment of food to humanity. and v. 30, the assignment of food to animals.

Each of the creatures made thus far is described as "according to its kind," yet not humankind in this verse or the following.  "Man's image is not simply of himself; he also shares a likeness to his Creator" (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 37). 

"Let Us Make Man."  There are numerous interpretations of the divine plural in this verse: "Let us make man . . . ."  Some scholars have seen this as a plural of the heavenly court (Von Rad, Zimmerli, Gispen, Kline, etc.).  Keil and Driver some time ago intimated that it might be interpreted as a plural of majesty (Queen Victoria: "We are not amused").  Others have interpreted it as a plural of self-deliberation or self-encouragement (Cassuto, Westermann, Steck), while still others have defended the classical Christian interpretation that the verse implies a plurality within the Godhead (Clines, Hasel).  Wenham basically aligns himself with the first interpretation: "'Let us create man' should therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly court, drawing the angelic host's attention to the master stroke of creation, man" (28).  Yet Wenham also admits the legitimacy of a sensus plenior--that is, a "fuller sense" of meaning based on later passages of scripture--that could be unabashedly Trinitarian.  Regarding the sensus plenior, see the article by W. S. LaSor, "Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus Plenior," in Tyndale Bulletin 29 (1978) 49-60.

The Uniqueness of Mankind.  The creation of mankind is performed by a more immediate act of divine wisdom and power than the other creatures described here.  There is an unmistakable solemnity in the text.  While other elements of creation come into being with only a rather unceremonious command, e.g., "Let there be light," etc., mankind is presented as a creature resulted from a special self-deliberation of God, "Let us make man."  It is as though God were to say, "This is a work I must take into my own hands."  God had now settled the preliminary concerns, and wished to proceed forthwith to the chief matter in the business of creation.  "Let there be" does not suggest any sort of personal involvement on God's part, but "Let us make man" suggests precisely this.  The creation of mankind clearly reflects the twin principles of separation and dominion, mentioned above.  Indeed, this creative act with its accompanying explanation, serves as the highest expression of both principles: mankind is separated and distinguished from the rest of creation by a special act of creation, and mankind is given universal dominion over all the earth (subject implicitly to God, of course). 

Humanity is not said to reproduce "according to kind," perhaps because such a phrase would fail to give full expression to the unique individuality which human persons posses in contrast to other creatures.  The plants and animals generally are regarded by God basically as "species" or collectivities; mankind is regarded by God basically as a number of individuals.  Still the point should not be pressed too far.  Did not Jesus say that a single sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from the Father, Mt. 10:29?  God's universal providence extends to individual of all species.  On the other hand, the text before conveys the impression that human persons stand more directly under God's care as individuals than do the other creatures.

The uniqueness of mankind appears in other ways in this passage.  God's blessing is spoken to man, not just concerning him (v. 28), implying a capacity on man's part intelligently to receive what God has to say.  (cf. v. 22, "blessed them, saying," vs. v. 28, "blessed them and God said to them.")  The command of vv. 29,30 mentions mankind first, before the animals, and in effect subsumes the animals under mankind.  Finally, mankind is created "in His own [i.e., God's] image" (vv. 26-27).


The Image of God in Humanity.  Regarding the much disputed issue of "the image of God" in humanity, Wenham notes the inconclusiveness of the discussions of this topic.  He notes the influential treatment of this topic by Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics (III/1, 183-7), where the image of God is the human capacity for relationship.  Barth links this with the male-female distinction, whereby human beings demonstrate a capacity to relate to one another (Mitmenschlichkeit). Westermann agrees with Barth, even holding that "in our image" modifies the verb "let us make," and not the noun "man."  Thus image of God is not a part of the human constitution but rather a description of the process that made humans different (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 31).  Yet as Wenham notes, the effort to interpret the image of God as "relational" rather than "substantive" is not entirely satisfactory, since the inevitable question arises as to what exactly it is in the constitution of human nature that makes possible the divine-human relation.

Pirior to the creation of humanity, the author has not mentioned the gender distinction of male and female.  Yet this is important enough to mention in relation to humanity (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 37).  Wenham makes mention in passing to the midrashic notion that humanity was first created as a male-female combination (or androgyne), and that the sexes were then separated from one another by a process of division.  One wonders if this view is related to that in Plato, who proposed the existence of androgynes in his Symposium.  

Wenham provides some important support for seeing the image of God as consisting in humanity's dominion over the earth.  In the ancient Near East, images of rulers were viewed as representatives of deities or kings; so it is with humankind in the first chapter of Genesis.  "Whereas Egyptian writers often spoke of kings as being in God's image, they never referred to other people in this way.  It appears that the OT has democratized this old idea.  It affirms that not just a king, but every man and woman, bears God's images and is his representative on earth" (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 31).  Note the important parallel in Psalm 8, which speaks of humanity as having been created "a little lower" than the angels, "crowned" with glory, and made to "rule" over the works of God's hands - with clear allusions to the functions of royalty.


"Be Fruitful and Multiply."  This is the first commandment ever given by God to any creature.  (Some have commented that it is the only divine command that humanity has truly fulfilled!)  God's purpose is for humanity to procreate.  Moreover, God gave a large inheritance to mankind with the words, "fill the earth."  God's blessing insures the fruitfulness of the human race, and guarantees to mankind a lasting posterity which will extend to the utmost corners of the globe--as indeed it has.  Because of this blessing, the human race continues.  Though mankind has no responsibility to provide for the fish and fowl, he is nevertheless given dominion over them. 

"Subdue It and Have Dominion."  Much debate in recent times has centered on the meaning of this imperative to "subdue" the earth and have "dominion" over it.  Without question, the Hebrew word for "subdue" is a strong one.  Critics of the Bible (e.g., Lynn White, in a well-known essay on the "historic roots" of the environemental crisis) argued that Gen. 1;28 functioned as a biblical prooftext sanctioning the untramelled exploitation and despoilation of the environment in Western Christian civilization.  Others, like Loren Wilkinson, in Earthkeeping, argued to the contrary that the opening chapters of Genesis imply a strong ethic of human stewardship over the non-human creation.  The earth does not belong to humanity but to God (Ps. 24:1-2).  Thus human beings are charged with caring for the world as God's stewards (i.e, representatives) rather than as the proper owners of the earth.  It is notable that the later Jewish practice of the year of jubillee rested on the same idea.  The land is God's, and therefore the ownership of it cannot permanently pass into the hands of anyone other than those who whom God has allotted it.  Some argue that the "image of God" in humanity consists in precisely an imaging of God's loving and beneficent care as human beings care for the created world.

On man's relation to the animals, Wenham writes (Genesis 1-11, 33): "Animals, though subjects to man, are viewed as his companions in 2:18-20.  Noah, portrayed as uniquely righteous in 6:9, is also the arch-conservationist who built an ark to preserve all kinds of life from being destroyed in the flood (6:20; 7:3)." 

Creation Mandate?  Christian thinkers, particularly in the Reformed tradition, have seen Gen. 1:28 as a "creation mandate" that sanctions the entire range of cultural endeavors that human beings undertake to reshape the world in accordance with their own purposes.  The weather may be too cold for us--so we create furnaces and central heating.  The weather may be too hot for us--so we create air conditioning.  Human beings in fact do act as masters over their environment, and this characteristic sets them apart from other species on planet earth.

The Theme of "Blessing."  On the theme of "blessing" in the Book of Genesis, Gordon Wenham writes: "The root brk occurs more frequently in Genesis than in any other part of the OT: 88 times in Genesis as against 310 times elsewhere.  God's blessing is manifested most obviously in human prosperity and well-being; long-life, wealth, peace, good harvests, and children are the items that figure more frequently in the lists of blessing such as 24:35-36; Lev 26:4-13; Deut 28:3-15.  What modern secular man calls 'luck' or 'success' the OT calls 'blessing,' for it insists that God alone is the source of all good fortune.  Indeed, the presence of God walking among his people is the highest of his blessings (Lev 26:11-12).  Material blessings are in themselves tangible expressions of divine benevolence.  Blesing not only connects the patriarchal narratives with each other (cf. 24:1; 26:3; 35:9; 39:5), it also links them with the primeval history (cf. 1:28; 5:2; 9:1).  The promises of blessing to the patriarchs are thus a reassertion of God's original intentions for man" (Genesis 1-15, 275).


God provides food for mankind (v. 29), and also for the beasts (v. 30).  At every point in this narrative God's overabundant goodness is underscored, as Matthew Henry says, "He that feeds his birds will not starve his babes."  God's care for all his creatures should encourage his children to put their full and unreserved trust in him, as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. 

John Calvin links the statement regarding human dominion over the earth (v. 28) with this statement (v. 29) regarding the plants given to mankind for food.  "For it is of great importance that we touch nothing of God's bounty but what we know he has permitted us to do; since we cannot enjoy anything with a good conscience, except we receive it as from the hand of God" (First Book of Moses, 99).

Vegetarian Diet.  This verse suggests that God intended for Adam and Eve to have a vegetarian diet.  Origen states that God originally permitted the use of vegetables for Adam and Eve, and only sanctioned the eating of flesh at the time of Noah (Origen, Homilies, 69).  The first reference to humans eating animals occurs in Genesis 9:3: "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant."  That verse seems plainly to distinguish the giving of plants in Genesis 1, and then the assigning of plants together with animals in Genesis 9.


This narrative is not only a departure from, but a reversal of, the usual relation of humanity to the gods in the ancient Near East.  In this text, God supplies food for humanity.  In the ancient Near East generally, humans are created by the gods for the purpose of supplying food for (i.e., sacrifice) for the gods.


God reviewed the whole of the work he had done, He "saw all that He had made."  And he declares his full approval upon it.  He took delight in his works.  When we review all of our works we find much that gives us grief, but it was not so with God.  Augustine says: "And because you did not make them all equal, each single thing is good and collectively they are very good, for our God made his whole creation very good" (Confessions, 7.12).  "Very good" according to Augustine and later Christian philosophers applies particularly to the ordered relation of creatures one with another.  Thomas Aquinas says that the greatest good of all things created in the order of the universe, and that order certainly becomes apparent by the time one has finished reading this chapter.  

Comparison / Typology

"Formless and Void."  Typologically considered, the earth as tohu wa bohu depicts the condition of the sinner prior to redeeming grace, as Matthew Henry indicates: "If the work of grace in the soul is a new creation, this chaos represents the state of the unregnerate graceless soul: there is disorder, confusion, and every evil work; it is empty of all good, for it is without God; it is dark, it is darkness itself.  This is our condition by nature, till almighty grace effects a blessed change."  Paul's idea of redemption as "new creation" (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17) suggests this parallel.

Jonathan Edwards takes a view much like that of Matthew Henry.  The original state of the earth as "formless and void" in Genssis 1 is an instructive spiritual picture for us.  "The first state of the earth, or this lower world, shows what is was to be afterwards, viz., a world of confusion and emptiness, full of evil, vanity of vanities" ("Notes on Scripture," #342). 

Spirit Moving.  For Jerome, the Spirit of God moving over the waters is a prefiguration of baptism (Louth, Genesis 1-11, 4). 

"Light."  Light, the closest physical analogy to God's own character, is created first of all.  Light is the sublimest element and the first of all the elementary powers.  "Without light there is no creation; only light reveals the contours of the creature blurred in darkness" (Von Rad, Genesis, 49).  At the same time, this text stresses the creatureliness of light, which is not an overflow of the divine essence, but rather an object brought into existence by the will and word of God.  Matthew Henry ruminates over God's creation of light: "The first of all visible beings which God created was light; not that by it he himself might see to work (for the darkness and light are both alike to him), but that by it we might see his works and his glory in them . . . Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe.  Like the first-born, it does, of all visible beings, most resemble its great Parent in purity and power, brightness and beneficence; it is of great affinity with a spirit, and is next to it . . . By the sight of it let us be led to, and assisted in, the believing contemplation of him who is light, infinite and eternal light (1 John i.5), and the Father of lights (James i.17), and who dwells in inaccessible light, 1 Tim. vi.16.  In the new creation, the first thing wrought in the soul is light: the blessed Spirit captivates the will and affections by enlightening the understanding . . . Those that by sin were darkness by grace become light in the world [cf. Eph. 5:8] . . . The divine light which shines in sanctified souls is wrought by the power of God, the power of his word and of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, opening the understanding, scattering the mists of ignorance and mistake, and giving the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ [cf. 2 Cor. 4:6]."    

Separation of Day and Night.  Typologically considered, the division of day and night suggests that light has no fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14).  Just as the light first dawned on this first day of the first week of the world, so also the light of Christ's resurrection also dawned on the first day of the week, and early in the morning. 

First Day.  Matthew Henry writes of the first day of creation: "This was not only the first day of the world, but the first day of the week.  I observe it to the honour of that day, because the new world began on the first day of the week likewise, in the resurrection of Christ." 

Origen's Views.  Origen took the waters--separated from the dry land--as representing the sins and vices of the body.  The sun and moon symbolize Christ and the church, for Origen, while the stars are symbols of the saints and the prophets (Louth, Genesis 1-11,12,16).   See the symbolic references to "stars" in Dan. 12:3 and 1 Cor. 15:41.


Absolute vs. Relative Beginnings.  On the issue of the rendering of the Hebrew wording in Genesis 1:1, and whether this implies that there was "preexisting" matter at the time of God's creating as described, see the discussion under "History of Interpretation."

The Question of Origins.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers some thought-provoking reflections on the question of "beginnings": "We cannot speak of the beginning; where the beginning begins our thinking stops, it comes to an end . . . We know that we must not cease to ask about the beginning though we know that we can never ask about it."  Stated more succinctly: "In thinking of the beginning thinking collapses."  Consequently "critical philosophy" struggles against this Biblical affirmation of a "beginning" (Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, 9-10).  God's creating is an ultimate limit to our thinking.

Emptiness of the Creature.  The original formlessness depicted in Gen. 1:2, according to Jonathan Edwards, is an image of the emptiness of the creature prior to and apart from the ordering work of God through the Holy Spirit: "Thus God was pleased in the first state of the creation to show that the creature is in itself; that in itself it is wholly empty and vain, that is fulness or goodness is not in itself, but in him, and in the communications of his Spirit, animating, quickening, adorning, replenishing, and blessing all things.  The emptiness and vanity here spoken of, is set in opposition to that goodness spoken of afterwards.  Through the incubation of the Spirit of God, (as the word translated moved, signifies) the Spirit of God is here represented as giving form, and life, and perfection, to this empty, void, and unformed mass, as a dove that sits infuses life, and brings to form and perfection the unformed mass of the egg.  Thus the fulness ofh the creature is from God's Spirit.  If God withdraws from the crature, it immediately becomes empty and void of all good.  The creature as it is in itself is a vessel, and has a capacity, but is empty; but that which fills that emptiness is the Spirit of God" (Jonathan Edwards, "Notes on Scripture," #448).

"God Said."  One of the theological themes in Genesis 1 is the power of God's Word/word, espeically the word as spoken.  Martin Luther, whose theology stressed the power of God's word, simply said, "to create is to command."  As soon as God speaks the word, each element of creation immediately springs into existence.  As noted in the exegesis for Gen. 1:1, throughout the Hebrew Bible, the verb here for create (bara') is used only with God as subject.  That is, only God is said to "create."  It is God's unique and distinctive work to create anything.  No creature creates.  And this creation takes by means of God's word--as John 1:1-3 also teaches. 

The Invisible World.  Immediately after asserting the divine creation of both "heaven" and "earth," the text goes on to describe specifically the stages involved in the creation of the "earth": "Now the earth was formless and void, etc."  But this recounting leaves out of consideration the invisible world -- important to the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  In fact the creation of "heaven," in the sense of "the invisible realm" as opposed to the visible stars and planets, is not discussed either in Genesis or anywhere else in the Old Testament.  We have no account for example of the origin of the angels.  Other Biblical passages, however, ascribe to God the creation of an invisible realm, e.g., Col. 1:16.

The Blessedness of Human as First Created.  Jonathan Edwards describes the blessed condition of human beings in their primordial state, as described in Gen. 1:27-30: "Here is described the sum of the blessedness that man had in his first estate.  Here is first his inherent spiritual good, which lay in his being created in God's image.  Here is the happiness that he had in the favour of God; his [i.e., God's] blessing of him is a testimony of it.  Here is the happiness he had in his intercourse with God; for his thus talking with him in this friendly manner is an instance of it.  Here is all his external good, which consisted in two things: first, in having society, implied in that expression, 'male and female he crated them,' and in those words, 'be fruitful and multiply.'  Here is the sum of their outward good in the enjoyment of earthly good.  Here is the possession of the earth, and enjoyment of the produce of it, and dominion over the inferior creatures in it" (Jonathan Edwards, "Notes on Scripture," #398).

Adam as a Covenant Head.  Jonathan Edwards describes the covenantal headship that is implied in the gifts given and the blessing spoken by God over Adam in Genesis 1: "These things were evidently given to Adam as the public head of mankind.  God in blessing them, evidently speaks to them [i.e., Adam and Eve] as the head of mankind.  The blessings he pronounces are given him in the name of the whole race, and thereforefore the favour manifested in blessing them is implicitly given to him as the head of the race . . . The blessing here pronounced on Adam . . . is plainly pronounced on him in the name of the whole race.  And therefore, in like manner when Adam is threatened with being deprived of all these in case of his disobedience, Adam must understand in its like manner as a calamity to come on the whole race, as consequently the implicit promise of life, as the confirmation and increase of the blessing, respects also the whole race.  Hence the covenant must be made with Adam, not only for himself, but all his posterity" (Jonathan Edwards, "Notes on Scripture," #398).  Though Gensis 1-3 never uses the term "covenant," nor describe what sort of connection may exist between Adam and Adam's posterity, Edwards's argument is that the statements made to Adam cannot be conceived of as limited to Adam alone.  They implicitly suggest an application to later generations.

Primary and Secondary Causes.  Some commentators have laid emphasis on the phrasing of Gen. 1:11: "let the earth sprout vegetation," Gen. 1:20, "let the waters swarm," and Gen. 1:24, "let the earth bring forth."  While God remains the primary cause, God is also able to move the creature to act in some way.  God's command enables the "earth" to do something new.  Secondary causes may thus have played a greater role in the proess of creation than might at first appear to be the case.  

Gift of the Land.  John Sailhamer, following the lead of certain Jewish interpreters, sees the primary theme of Genesis 1:2-2:3 as "God's gift of the land."  God creates the land not as a waste place but as habitable territory.  God thus provides for human needs and crowns the land with his blessing of fruitfulnes for both plants and animals alike.  Then God stipulates that the land and its resources need to be safeguarded through obedience, that is in tilling the soil (Gen. 2:16-17).  The land become habitable, though, only because God has set the land apart from the waters that would have rendered the land uninhabitable.  Before God began his work, the land was "formless" (tohu) and then God made it good (tob).  A similar pattern reappears later in the Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-18), where God leads his people through the turbulent, chaotic waters of the Red Sea onto dry ground.  Later in the history of Israel, when the people disobey God, the land once again becomes uninhabitable (Jer. 4:23-26) (Sailhamer, "Genesis," 24-5).

Dominion Over the Earth.  One of the important themes in the first chapter of the Bible is the dominion over the earth given by God to humankind.  J. Vernon McGee comments that Adam was not created to be a "glorified gardener for the garden of Eden" (Thru the Bible, 16).  Adam was given a signficant role. Perhaps he might be thought of as God's vice-regent or appointed delegate to rule.  Calvin made note the the plural form in Gen. 1:16--"let them have dominion"--and says that "the plural number intimates that this authority was not given to Adam only, but to all his posterity as well as to him" (First Book of Moses, 96).  Thus Calvin anticipated the later views of Jonathan Edwards, that God's words as spoken to Adam included Adam's posterity as well. 

In the medieval period there was theological speculation as to whether the incarnation of God's eternal Son would have taken place if there had been no fall into sin.  Thomas Aquinas, and his followers, the Thomists, said no, while Duns Scotus, and the Scotists, said yes.  The Scotists' believed that the great purpose of God dwelling among us, and reigning on the earth, would have called for fulfillment even if there were no sin that anyone needed to be redeemed from. 

Some contemporary Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians hold a teaching that God intended to exercise dominion over the world through Adam, but that when Adam sinned, Satan gained dominion and became "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4).  Christ came to regain the dominion lost to Adam, and in some sense the body of Christ--or Christian church--is called upon to reign and rule as an expression of Christ's kingship over all things.  This "dominion theology" has different expressions and applications.  Yet it has its roots in the first chapter of the Bible.  The application of the dominion idea to Christ is especially clear in Hebrews 2, which expands and interprets the statements of Psalm 8 regarding human dominion.


Is There an Application?  In the first instance it may seem that Genesis 1 is a chapter for which it is hard to find any direct application.  For God is the one who acts here, not any human being.  Yet Genesis is an encouragment for us to admire God's handiwork in the creation of the world.  And if we reflect further, we can begin to see that God--who observes analogy in all his works--has acted in creating the world in a way that is comparable to his work in redeeming the world.  What is more, there are at least some actions by God that serve as a model for human actions as well. Like God, we too can admire the works God has made (Gen. 1:31) and can rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3).  Typologically speaking, the separation of the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4) gives us a picture of the process of sanctification, "for what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14).

The Work of the Spirit.  The Spirit of God (v. 2) is the source of action and movement.  Matthew Henry writes: "God is not only the author of all being but the fountain of life and spring of motion.  Dead matter would be for ever dead if he did not quicken it.  And this makes it credible to us that God should raise the dead."  Genesis 1 is a reminder of the creature's total dependence on God in all thngs. 

Confidence in God.  If one can believe the first verse of the Bible, then one should find it easy to believe any miracle attributed to God in the rest of the Bible.  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  If we properly understand what is being asserted here, then we should be in awe of God's marvellous wisdom and power.  Nothing else--the dividing of the Red Sea in Exodus, the multiplication of the fish and loaves in Matthew, or the creation of the "new heaven and new earth" (Rev. 21:1) will be hard to accept.  John Calvin comments that "it is certain that the world had been begun by the same efficacy of the Word by which it was completed" (First Book of Moses, 74). 

Creation and Providence.  Jesus in the New Testament speaks of God's continuing work in the world: "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (Jn. 5:17).  John Calvin suggests in his comments on Gen. 1:11 that we ought to see the rich abundance of fruits and blessings in the world as simply a continued expression of God's orginal command for the earth to bring forth vegetation: "Herbs and trees . . . were endued with the power of propagation, in order that their several species might be perpetuated.  Since, therefore, we daily see the earth pouring forth to us such riches from its lap, since we see the herbs producing seed, and this seed received and cherished in the bosom of the earth till it springs forth, and since we see trees shooting from other trees; all this flows from the same Word.  If therefore we inquire, how it happens that the earth is fruitful, that the germ is produced from the seed, that fruits come to maturity, and their various kinds are annually reproduced; no other cause will be found, but that God has once spoken, that is, has issued his eternal decree; and that the earth, and all things proceeding from it, yield obedience to the command of God, whcih they always hear" (First Book of Moses, 83).  A realization of God's continuing work in the world should lead us to gratitude.  The God who provides for all animals will provide for us as well: "He that feeds his birds will not starve his babes" (Matthew Henry). 

The Spectacle of Creation.  God himself saw all that he had made and he declared it "very good" (Gen. 1:31).  We may imitate the Creator himself, who paused to contemplate and consider all that he had made, approving and rejoicing in the the things that he had made.  With the eyes of faith, we can see God's wisdom in all created things.  Calvin speaks of the rich blessings that awaited us before we even came into the world: "In the very order of creation the paternal solicitude of God for man is conspicuous, because he furnished the world with all things needful . . .  Thus man was rich before he was born" (First Book of Moses, 96).  Matthew Henry suggests that God's review of his own works is an example to human beings: "All the works of his hands are under his eye.  He that made all sees all . . . God has hereby set us an example of reviewing our works."  Yet we must wait for the completion of God's works in order to judge them properly: "The glory and goodness, the beauty and harmony, of God's works, both of providence and grace . . . will best appear when they are perfected . . . Therefore judge nothing before the time" (Matthew Henry).

The Height of the Heavens.  "The height of the heavens shoud remind us of God's supremacy and the infinite distance there is between us and him: the brightness of the heavens and their purity should remind us of his gory, and majesty, and perfect holiness; the vastness of the heavens, their encompassing of the earth, and the influence they have upon it, shoudl remind us of his immensity and universal providence" (Matthew Henry). 

Introduction to Genesis


Genesis is the book of beginnings.  Not only does it recount the origin of the cosmos, but it also lays the foundation for major themes that appear throughout the rest of the Old Testament and New Testament.  These include such themes as marriage and the family, the human relationship to the animal world, the nature of temptation and of sin, blessings and curses, murder, human cultures and cultural diversity, God's promises and covenants, the chosen people, God's pilgrim people, heirship and inheritance, and so forth.  The Book of Genesis is closer in its major themes to much of the New Testament than many other books of the Old Testament.

Genesis is part of the Pentateuch--the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) or Old Testament.  Jewish tradition ascribes the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses, and this idea is echoed in the New Testament (John 1:17, 5:46, 7:19, 23).  While many biblical scholars since the 1800s have challenged the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, there is little within Genesis itself to warrant this skepticism (Sailhamer, Genesis, 3).

 The Book of Genesis includes the following major compenents: Primal history (chaps. 1-11), Abraham (12-24), Isaac (25-26), Jacob (27-36), Joseph (37-50).  The personalities of each of these figures are apparent in the chapters devoted to them.  The Book of Genesis shows a "real development from one story to the next in the tightness of the plot, the depth of characterization, and in theological sophistication."  The so-called primal history of Genesis 1-11 includes episodes that function as isolated snapshots, rather than fully developed stores.  So, for example, in the flood story we see Noah's obedience but receive very little insight into Noah's character and motivations.  Wenham writes that "the Lord is not simply the producer of the play but also the principal actor in the primeval history."  Gen. 1-11 gives access into the mind of God.  The reader gets glimpses into God's inmost thoughts.

Yet in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis 12-50, it is as thought God's presence recedes into the background.  God frequently appears to Abraham, but much less often to Isaac and Jacob.  By the time of Joseph, revelation from God comes in the form of dreams.  Corresponding, the literary level of the narrative alters as well.  The story of Joseph is a polished gem, giving deep perspective into the character and motivations of each of the major players (Wenham, Genesis 1-11, 258).


Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars have hypothesized that the written traditions of the Pentateuch actually "crystallized" in the period of the exile (6th cent. B.C.E.), some eight centuries following the Exodus, and even further removed from the earlier forbears of the Israelite people.  The obvious question arises: How much of this presentation derives from the later period, and how much rests on authentic traditions from much earlier periods?   

Archaeological evidence as presented by William F. Albright and others shows that the Book of Genesis contains data indicating that its authors followed traditions from much earlier times.  Consider the embarrassing patriarchal idols being toted around in the Book of Genesis  It hardly seems likely that a later generation would have invented this.  There are geographical and cultural references to the earlier period. 

"The God of the Fathers."  In the narrative of the call of Moses in Exodus 3, it is stressed that Yahweh who reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush is none other than the God whom the patriarchs worshipped.  Exodus 6:2 seems to say something different: that God was known to the patriarchs as "the Almighty" (El Shaddai), and only subsequently was known as Yahweh.  Prompted by this fact, Albrecht Alt did a classic study entitled "The God of the Fathers" in 1929, which helped to establish some of the decisive differences between patriarchal religion as presented in the Penteteuch, and the later traditions. 

Julius Wellhausen had dismissed the alleged Yahwism in the patriarchal narratives, thinking that the religion of this time was actually akin to pre-Islamic Arabian religion, with belief in ancestral spirits and demons.  Yet Alt took a different approach, beginning with the names for God--"God of Abraham," "Fear of Isaac," "God of my father," etc.--and reasoned that unlike the Canaanite deities that were tied to particular places (elim), the deity of the patriarchs was a specifically nomadic kind of religion tied to family.  It was akin to the much later nomadic religion attested in Nabatean inscriptions.  Alt noted the frequent promises of blessing with many descendents, and this fit into the general picture of "family religion." 

Some have argued against Alt that such phrases as "God of the fathers" can be attested in sedentary societies, and that while the patriarchs are presented as herding sheep and goats, specifically nomadic religious practices are not well attested in the Book of Genesis.  This can be seen as casting doubt on Alt's construction of patriarchal religion from the later Penteteuchal narratives.

Yet there are prima facie arguments for the reliability of many of the traditions in Genesis.  The patriarchal narratives contain many elements that were objectionable and immoral by the later standards of Israelite society.  Consider the following instances.  Abraham married his half-sister (20:12), though this was prohibited by later Torah legislation (Lev. 18:9,11, 20:17; Deut. 27:22; cf. 2 Sam. 13:13; Ezk. 22:11).  Jacob was simultaneously married to two sisters, which was also disallowed in the later law (Lev. 18:18).  Judah had intercourse with his own daughter-in-law, Tamar (38:16), and Reuben slept with his own father's concubine--the mother of his half-brothers (35:22, 49:4; 1 Chron. 5:1).  Such events can hardly be retrojections of later ideals.

The same principle applies to the religious practices of the patriarchs, which also sometimes violated the strictures of the later law.  Abraham is reported as planting a sacred tree where he invoked the name of God, though such an act was later forbidden (21:33; Dt. 16:21, 12:3, Ex. 34:13).  We read also that Jacob set up sacred pillars (massebot) at Bethel and Gilead, although such cultic objects were later considered as Canaanite abominations to be destroyed (28:18, 28:22, 31:13, 35:14, 31:44-52; Ex. 23:24, 34:13, Deut. 7:5, 12:3).  Such pillars were not to be introduced into the worship of the true God (Lev. 26:1, Deut. 16:22).  Although the patriarchs built altars and offered animal sacrifices, no mention is made of temples of priests (12:7, 13:4,18, 22:9, 26:25, 31:54, 33:20, 35:1,3,7, 46:1).  This too was at variance with the later religious practices of the Israelites (Sarna, 87).  

The ancestors of Israel are described in Gen. 12-50 as associations of families (beth 'ab) with a patriarchal organization.  They reared sheep and goats in the hill country of Palestine and in arid marginal zones (Gen. 26:19ff, 37:12ff.), and sometimes engaged in sedentary agriculture (Gen. 26:12 ff.).  They were economically independent, and seem in the narratives to exist in relative isolation from everyone else.  This picture fits in with a time in which political structures beyond the family had not developed in Palestine.  The family was the basic economic and social unit. 

It comes as no surprise that the family is also the basic religious unit.  The male head of the household is the priest (Gen. 13:18, 35:7).  The cultus (i.e., form of worship) is still a family cultus.  Religious experiences are governed by the needs of family life.  This is reflected in the very idea of God: God is the God of the father or forefather.  The relationship to God is a part of the tradition within the family.

It is interesting that no proper names containing Yahweh are given in the patriarchal narratives, but many compound person and place names with El (e.g., Beth-El--house of God).  This is an argument that the name "Yahweh" came later.  It is also quite notable that there is almost no polemic against other gods.  In Gen. 35 Jacob calls on his family to "put away the foreign gods," yet this is a rare instance in the Book of Genesis. 

One of the key religious events in the patriarchal period was the birth of a son.  Legally speaking, sons were necessary for continuity of the family line.  So if a woman had no children, the family was under threat.  Marriage law in the ancient Near East sought to cope with this desperate situation by allowing for various forms of polygamy and proxy birth.  (E.g., Hagar in Genesis 16.)  The birth of a son, after a time of infertility, was seen as a sign of God's blessing.  Sarah--Isaac, and later Hannah--Samuel, and (in the New Testament) Elizabeth--John.

The promise of a son was sometimes given by a divine messenger or malak (translated as "angel").  It is not always clear whether the malak is thought of as a human being who speaks a message from God (consider the "three men" in Gen. 18:2), or else as a supernatural being of some kind.  The most unusual episode of all occurs with the "man" who wrestled with Jacob, had to leave before dawn, and then dislocated Jacob's hip (Gen. 32:22-32.)   

One of the features of the family God stands out sharply: God insures the survival of the family independent of the moral behavior of the members of the family (consider Abraham in Gen. 12:10-20).  God's action is unconditional, grounding in the "covenant" He made with Abraham "and his seed" (or descendents).  God rescues a child--Ishmael--from dying of thirst (Gen. 21:16ff), rescues Isaac from the threat of child-sacrifice (Gen. 22), rescues the wives of the patriarchs from the sexual advances of alien rulers (Gen. 12:10-20). 

God is also with the patriarchs, like Jacob, in all the dangers of their wandering way of life (Gen. 28:20-22--Jacob's vow).  God gives protection to his worshippers.  From the conception of God in this period, one sees indirectly the high degree of danger to which the people were exposed.  The nomadic peoples were too small to defend themselves against larger groups.  We read of frequent disputes over water rights (Gen. 26), yet God enables Isaac to find a new well that no one else knows about, and this shows Yahweh's favor.  Jacob faces a massive threat from his brother Esau (with 400 men!), but escapes unharmed (Gen. 32).  While Yahweh favors his people, he does not act in a warlike fashion in Genesis--unlike the later narratives of conquest in the Old Testament.

There is a ritual/worship aspect to the patriarchal narratives--the founding of altars, and sacred stones (masseba/masseboth).  They may have found existing cultic sites, or else founded new ones.  Sometimes we read that they "call on the name of God."  Recount the story of Laban and Rachel, who stole her father's teraphim--referred to as "my gods."  These were probably small figurines of deities in the possession of the family.  It is an open question as to how many of the families in the patriarchal period had such figures.  Why did Rachel steal them?  Probably inheritance was not based on possessing them, but rather they secured the continuity of the family between generations--a rather important family heirloom, one might say.  There are later references to teraphim--the image that Michal put in the bed to give the impression that David was sleeping there, 1 Sam. 19:13,16, and in Judges 17:5, 18:14,17,20).  The text in Genesis tells us little regarding the function of the teraphim, yet it seems that their loss does not keep Laban from invoking the God of (his father) Nahor to conclude a treaty (Gen. 31:53).

Some have suggested that the teraphim are images of the deified ancestors.  Many analogies could be supplied from other cultures in Africa and East Asia.  There may have been a full cult of the dead in ancient Israel, yet there is little evidence for it in the Hebrew Bible.  Divination through departed spirits is spoken of only in 1 Sam. 28, and here King Saul seeks out not his own relative but the decease prophet Samuel.  Still there was a sense of solidarity with the deceased; when the living die, they are said to be "gathered to their fathers" (Gen. 25:8,17; 35:29; 49:29,33).   


The basic plotline of the Pentateuch is something like this: the religion of Israel began with a promise of Yahweh to liberate Israel from forced labor in Egypt, and lead the people to Palestine.  It was consolidated by a revelation of Yahweh on Mount Sinai in which he gave Israel the commandments, instituted the nation's worship, and concluded a covenant with the people.  They at last arrived at their destination when Yahweh gave his people the promised land.  Despite differences on details, the Old Testament authors agree that the essential elements of the religion of Israel had already emerged prior to the settlement in Palestine.  In consequence of this, sometimes the history of Israelite religion has been presented as a three stage process of Mosaic religion, Canaanite syncretism, followed by "purified" prophetic religion.

Thematic Essays on Genesis

Commentary List

  • Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis. 2 vols. Ancient Christian Writers, 41-42.
  • Atkinson, David John. The Message of Genesis 1-11: The Dawn of Creation. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
  • Ambrose. Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel. Fathers of the Church, 42. Translated by John J. Savage. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1961.
  • Ainsworth, Henry. Annotations Upon the Five Bookes of Moses, the Booke of the Psalms, and the Songs, or Canticles. London: Printed by M. Flesher and J. Haviland, 1627. [Public Domain]
  • Baldwin, Joyce G. The Message of Genesis 12-50: From Abraham to Joseph. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
  • Bede, the Venerable. On Genesis. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2008.
  • Calvin, John. Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847-1850. [Public Domain]
  • Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1989.
  • Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments . . . With a Commentary and Critical Notes. 7 vols. New York: Ezra Sargent, 1811. [Google Books]
  • Delitzsch, Franz. A New Commentary on Genesis. 2 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899. [Google Books—Vol. 1]
  • Dillmann, A. Genesis Critically and Exegetically Expounded. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897. [Public Domain]
  • Ebach, Jürgen. Genesis, 37-50. Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2007. [German]
  • Gaebelein, Frank E.; ed. Expositor's Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976-1992. [Vol. 2: Genesis to Numbers]
  • Hartley, John E. Genesis. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
  • Hershon, Paul Isaac; M. Wolkenberg; and H. D. M. Spence-Jones. The Pentateuch According to the Talmud; Genesis: With a Talmudical Commentary. London: S. Bagster and Sons, 1883. [Google Books]
  • Ibn, Ezra, Abraham ben Meir. The Commentary of Abraham Ibn Ezra on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. Vol. 1: Genesis. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 1900-. [Public Domain]
  • Jamieson, Robert; A. R. Faucet; and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. 2 vols. [Vol. 1: Old Testament]. New York Jamieson: S. S. Scranton, 1875. [Google Books]
  • Jenks, William; ed. The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible . . . Containing Scott's Marginal References; Matthew Henry's Commentary. 5 vols. Brattleboro, VT: Fessenden, 1835, 1836, 1839; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1849. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Judges] [Google Books]
  • John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 2 vols. Translated by Robert C. Hill. Fathers of the Church, 74 and 82. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986-1990.
  • Keil, C. F.; and F. Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 1; The Pentateuch. [Genesis and Part of Exodus] Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866. [Google Books]
  • Kennicott, Benjamin. Two Dissertations: The First on the Tree of Life in Paradise With Some Observations on the Creation and Fall of Man; The Second on the Oblations of Cain and Abel. Oxford, Printed at the Theatre, 1747. [Public Domain]
  • Kidder, Richard. A Commentary on the Five Books of Moses. Vol. 1 [Genesis and Exodus]. London: Printed by J. Heptinstall, for William Rogers, 1694. [Google Books]
  • Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Volume 1; Genesis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008 [1967].
  • Lange, John Peter. Genesis, Or, the First Book of Moses; A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Edited by John Peter Lange. New York: Charles Scribners, 1868. [Google Books]
  • Lardner, Nathaniel. Essay on the Mosaic Account of the Creation and Fall of Man. (1753). [CCEL].
  • Le Clerc, Jean. Twelve Dissertations out of Monsieur Le Clerk's Genesis. Translated by M. Brown. London: Printed by R. Baldwin, 1696. [Public Domain]
  • Lightfoot, John. A Few and New Observations Upon the Booke of Genesis. London: Printed by T. Badger, 1642. [Public Domain]
  • Louth, Andrew; ed.; with Marco Conti. Bray, Gerald; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  • Luther, Martin. A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis; Vols. 1: On the Creation; Vol. 2: On Sin and the Flood. Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1904-1910. [Public Domain]
  • Luther, Martin. Luther's Works; Vols. 1-8: Lectures on Genesis. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1955- .
  • Mackintosh, Charles Henry. Notes on the Book of Genesis. New York: Loizeaux, 1880. [Google Books]
  • Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. [CCEL]
  • McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1981. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy]
  • Neusner, Jacob. Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic Commentary to the Book of Genesis; A New American Translation. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1985.
  • Origen. Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Translated by Ronald E. Heine. Fathers of the Church, 71. Washington, DC. [B, T]
  • Parker, Samuel. Bibliotheca Biblia. [Vol. 1: Genesis] Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1720.
  • Patrick, Simon. A Commentary Upon the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis. London: Printed for RI. Chiswell, 1698. [Public Domain]
  • Poole, Matthew. Annotations Upon the Holy Bible. 3 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1853. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Job] [Google Books]
  • Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis: A Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1961.
  • Ramban [Nachmanides]; and Charles B. Chavel. Commentary on the Torah, 5 vols. [Vol. 1: Genesis] New York: Shilo, 1971-1976.
  • Rashi; and Chaim Pearl. Rashi; Commentaries on the Pentateuch. New York: Norton, 1970.
  • Rashi; and James H. Lowe. "Rashi" on the Pentateuch: Genesis. London: Hebrew Compendium Pub. Co., 1928.
  • Reno, Russell R. Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.
  • Ross, Alexander. An Exposition of the Fourteene First Chapters of Genesis. London: Printed by B. A. and T. F., 1626. [Public Domain]
  • Sarna, Nahum. The JPS Torah Commentary Series; Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
  • Sewell, Stephen. The Scripture History Relating to the Overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. Boston: Printed for William P. and Lemuel Blake, 1796.
  • Sheridan, Mark; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Genesis 12-50. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
  • Trapp, John. A Clavis to the Bible, Or, A New Comment Upon the Pentateuch. London: Printed for Timothy Garthwait, 1649. [Public Domain]
  • Walker, George. The History of the Creation as It is Written by Moses in the First and Second Chapters of Genesis. London: Printed for John Bartlet, 1641. [Public Domain]
  • White, John. A Commentary Upon the Three First Chapters of the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. London: Printed by John Streater, 1656. [Public Domain]
  • Whitelaw, Thomas. The Pulpit Commentary; Genesis. Series edited by H. D. M. Spence-Jones. New York / Toronto: Funk and Wagnalls, 1890s. [Google Books]
  • Walton, John H. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
  • Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary; Genesis 1-15. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 1-11. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 12-36. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 37-50. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1986.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.
  • Willet, Andrew. Hexapla in Genesin and Exodum, that is, A Six-Fold Commentary Upon the First Two Bookes of Moses. London: Printed by Iohn Haviland, 1633. [Public Domain]

Chapter Credits

    This Chapter currently assigned to: Michael M.