Genesis 1:1-2 – The Doctrine of God in Creation

In this episode we discuss the first two verses of Genesis 1. The episode focuses on the centrality of God in creation. We begin by discussing some interpretive assumptions involved in reading this passage. We also consider: the distinctiveness of the God of the Bible over against the pagan myths, God’s sovereignty and freedom in creation, creation ex nihilo, the creation of the invisible heavens and the visible earth, the initial formlessness of creation, and the work of God’s Spirit, and many other things.

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Proclaiming Christ is an audio program focused upon biblical preaching. In each episode we will discuss the process, method, and goals of preaching biblical texts from a uniquely Reformed perspective. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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7 years ago

Great podcast. I really enjoyed it. Keep up the good work!

Mark G

7 years ago

Great discussion. I especially like the focus on the theology of Genesis. Too often discussions of Genesis 1 get hijacked by contemporary debates at the expense of the profound theology found there. I was also intrigued by this upper story / lower story idea since I think it connects with other events in the Bible. Moses ascending Sinai meets with God and among other things receives a plan for the tabernacle (containing garden imagery) that is a mini model of the creation where God dwells among his people. Then Jesus enters human history becoming the ultimate temple which reappears in Revelation in the New Heavens and New Earth containing the tree of life and rivers of living water. Interesting stuff to think on.

Cris Dickason

6 years ago

Question and comment (way after the fact, I know). I listened to the first couple of these Genesis casts while working in the yard, may not have remembered the exact place for this question… Someone pointed to a special lexical relationship or connection in the opening Hebrew words (b_r_Ashyt b_r_A – Alef represented by uppercase A, underscore for the main vowels; phonetically: beraysheet bara).

So, after pointing out the verb (bara) is used only with reference to God’s activity, the point was made that you can see/hear a special relationship in the the phrase beraysheet bara. Obviously referring to the three common consonants – Bet-Rosh-Alef. Did I catch correctly this is attributed to, or supported by E.J. Young? Can you provide the reference and flesh this out?

There is no tri-consonantal root connection in these two words. The tr-consonantal root of the prepositional phrase “in the beginning” is Rosh-Alef-Shin (rosh), the bet is the preposition, so there’s no genetic or historic connection, no deriving either word from some common root. Rosh = head and is related to words “former, first, chief” (rAiyshon), etc.

This is all pretty basic stuff. Can we check the E.J. Young reference and see if the point is one of poetic composition, of some phonetic artistry, crafting the opening words of Genesis is such a majestically memorable fashion: In the beginning God created (to use English word order)?

Please don’t take this as a lecture, don’t think I’m playing some Hebrew expert thing. It’s not that I’m old enough to have learned Hebrew in the days of the judges (just barely younger than that). I did linguistics prior to Seminary, and I used to play Hebrew Scrabble in the backroom of the WTS Campus Bookstore, and I’ve kept at it a little since those days even though I wound up as a software professional.

Would love to know the E.J. Young reference. Enjoying the series very much.

Please forgive the butchered transliterations (font restrictions, eh?)
Ruling Elder, TOPC, Hatboro, PA

Bruce Sanders

5 years ago

Adam, Chad, Mark, Matt:

You asked for listener response. Unfortunately this subject has to be built in stages, making it a bit long.

During your podcast you stated the Hebrew word ‘bara’ “is never used of human activity; always of divine work” … and, “bara never includes pre-existent material; it is always ex nihilo (out of nothing).”

Hebrew-English lexicons identify numerous verses in several categories that disprove your statements (I list but a few):

(i) Fashioned from Pre-existent Material: Gen 1:27 “And God created (bara) man in His own image” in combination with Gen 2:7 “of the dust of the ground” (pre-existent material).

(ii) Transformation: Ps 51:12 Create (bara) in me a clean heart, O God …

(iii) Human Activity: II Sam 12:17 “neither did he (David) eat (bara) bread with them.”

(iv) Romance: Jer 31:21 “For the LORD has created (bara) a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man.”

Furthermore, when I studied the remaining bara verses pertaining to ‘creation,’ I could not find a single example of “bara ex nihilo,” including Gen 1:1.

Gen 1:1 starts with beraysheet, a word often erroneously translated as “in the beginning.”
Beraysheet ends with a ‘tav’; a letter used to convert the root resh-aleph-shin from an ‘Absolute’ state to a ‘Construct’ state [there is in Hebrew no word for the English word “of”; thus when required, the state is changed to Construct. For example, Jer 26:1, “In the beginning of (beraysheet) the reign of Jehoiakim” or Jer 28:1, “in the beginning of (beraysheet) the reign of Zedekiah”]. To recap: Absolute translates as “in the beginning”; Construct as “in the beginning of.” Beraysheet in Gen 1:1 is in Construct; hence the English word “of” must read into the translation. The translation you used during the podcast, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is not faithful to the Hebrew text.

Furthermore, once the Construct state is correctly applied, the Hebrew consonantal text yields a second correction … bara is not Qal Perfect 3rd masculine singular, but an Active Participle, which in Hebrew is used to indicate a process occurring over time.

Integrating these corrections, verses 1 and 2 are restored to a single sentence, yielding the translation, “At the start of God’s transformation of the sky (“shamayim”) and land (“eretz”), the land was “tohu va bohu” … and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.”

“Waters” … molecules of bound hydrogen and oxygen … indicate that (i) quantum particles and forces, (ii) atomic particles and forces, and (iii) molecular particles and forces were all in existence. Furthermore, “waters” (and not ice) indicate a warm earth with an atmosphere to retain the heat … and “surface of the waters” indicates gravity and mass particles. According to verse 2, all of these were in existence prior to the First Day of Creation in verse 3.

Therefore, the eretz being tohu va bohu at the start of Gen 1:2 does not mean “void / formless” (as in non-existent), but rather, uninhabitable [Isa 45:18 “The LORD that created the heavens … that formed the earth … created it not a waste (tohu) … He formed it to be inhabited”]. Also, tohu va bohu in verse 2 cannot be what God created in verse 1 … something else happened in-between.

Lastly, your translation, “In the beginning God created” raises the question, “beginning of what”? Based on what I know of Reformed theology, you would answer, “The beginning of time … the history of the universe, earth, even heaven.” But since your theology expects a new heaven and a new earth, why assume only two such ages? The Bible after all does give many indications of existence prior to Gen 1:1 (the Triune God for one). If you continue to ponder this, you will quickly realize that many of the assumptions, conclusions and statements you made during the podcast become invalid, starting with all the reasons you gave as to why you do not translate Gen 1:1 using the word “when.”

In summary, based on the Hebrew text and grammar, the ‘creation’ process in Genesis used pre-existent material, possibly left over from a time prior to the start of the Genesis story; a time that left planet earth covered with so much water that the tohu va bohu eretz under the water was unseen and in complete darkness (Gen 1:2). Scripture does not give details, but we do know from science that if tectonic plates closed the Marianas and similar deep trenches, and brought existing mountains low, the water would have been at least 2 miles deep.

Respectfully submitted,



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