Studies in Genesis I-XI (3)

Scripture: Genesis 1:1–3a Read also – Job 38:1-18; Psalm 104:1-9, 24–31; Hebrews 1:1–4

Crucial question of origins – Our age may well he characterized by its preoccupation with origins.

Man has become a puzzle to himself. In his search for self-understanding he travels many roads. But among these he repeatedly turns hack to the past. No longer can he content himself merely with plumbing the depths of his unconscious, with revelling in the conquest of outer space, with dissecting the social order wherein hc lives. All his investigations, significant as they are, lead back to the fundamental issue: Who am I anyway? He worries about the future. now become so uncertain and insecure as he walks the razor’s edge of history. And, at a loss with both present and future, he intuitively and almost instinctively turns to the past. Can its pages, perhaps, unravel the riddle of what life is all about?

This is no new phenomenon. Through the long centuries man, who has memory, has puzzled over the problem. At times its urgency receded, when startling discoveries charmed him for a season with the present. But sooner or later he returned to a contemplation of origins. Could he somehow discover its secrets by himself? Or would the answers lie hidden until Someone uncovered them for him?

Thus the crucial issue becomes inescapable.

Either man springs from himself or this earth or from Someone or something beyond the observable universe. And if the latter, how can man obtain reliable and definitive knowledge concerning this?

Innumerable accounts have come down to us. Yet one stands out sharply in distinction and contradiction from all the rest. It is the short, sober, straightforward story of origins recorded in Genesis. And whether we accept it wholeheartedly, seek to understand it in the light of the total Biblical revelation, and thus by word and deed attempt to live by it consistently, or otherwise either modify or reject it by accommodation to contrary notions will affect our lives to the very smallest detail. Here opposing life-and-world-views come to stand over against each other. This struggle for supremacy over our lives between the Biblical faith and all other forms of belief begins with the first page, nay, with the very first words of Scripture.

In the beginning . . . who? – In its incisive and illuminating way the Bible begins with God. It simply posits His existence, refusing both here and consistently throughout all its pages to argue the point. For believers this is no surprise. They know Him as the ground of all being and meaning. Without Him life makes no sense. Apart from Him there can be nothing. Out what a revolution-in-thinking this precipitates among all others, including the “heathen” who “seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). The line runs not by means of an ascending ladder from man to God; it proceeds by divine self-disclosure from God to man.

Here God is called Elohim, likely derived from a root signifying to be smitten with fear. It denotes Him as the Strong and Mighty One. the God before whom man appears with trembling. Therefore he is to be revered. To be sure, the Bible writers often use this name in connection with the gods of the other peoples. Yet in every instance this is done by way of concession and with such clarity that it is evident that to them and all true believers those gods are no gods at all.

Already the use of the name Elohim (a plural form) alerts us to expect the revelation of something grand and glorious. God does not designate Himself as He exists in the depths of His being; rather, in His mighty works and especially in His personal relationships to men. All speculation, so characteristic of human philosophies and theologies, is summarily cut off. God summons men to stand before Him, to listen to His voice, to respond in reverence and awe. And in His speaking He demonstrates Himself as the One who acts and without whose actions there could and would be no activities at all.

In the beginning . . . what? – From its inception the Christian church, on the basis of the clear teachings of the whole Scripture as well as of Genesis 1, has confessed the creation of all things out of nothing (ex hihilo) and as a free, sovereign act. Both descriptions must stand, lest we fall into pernicious errors. The substance of the universe is not eternal. Its conditioned, temporal, dependent character is everywhere attested to in the Bible and confirmed by man’s experiences. Nor was there in God any necessity which constrained Him to create. He and He alone is the self-sufficient One.

The term bara (create) is not always used in Scripture in the same sense. It is indeed always ascribed to God, but upon occasion it is employed also in connection with His use of materials which He had already created (Gen. 1:27; Isa. 45:7, 12; Amos 4:13; I Cor. 11:9, etc.). It is also used to designate His providential control and guidance of what was fashioned (Ps. 104:30; Isa. 45:7, 8; 65:18, etc.). It should also be noted that the word ‘asah (make) is used at times of the “primary” or first creation (Gen. 2:4; Prov. 16:4; in the NT Acts 17:24).

An excellent definition, based on all relevant passages in Scripture, is provided by Berkhof: Systematic Theology, p. 129:

“Creation in the strict sense of the word may be defined as that free act of God whereby He, according to His sovereign will and for His own glory, in the beginning brought forth the whole visible and invisible universe, without the use of pre-existent material, and thus gave it an existence, distinct from His own and yet always dependent on Him.”

Then, in great detail, he analyzes the components of this definition and distinguishes the Biblical view from the many erroneous and compromising notions which men from time to time have championed.

By this act God brought forth the heavens and the earth, the Hebrew phrase which designates all things, the universe, for which that language has no single term. The phrase is so used repeatedly in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:19, 22; Exod. 31:17; II Kings 19:15; II Chron. 7:12; Ps. 115:5; 121:2; 124:8; Jer. 23:24; 32:17, etc.). We find it again in the New Testament (Matt. 24:35; Eph. 1:10). There is nothing above or beneath or around us that has not been made, and that by God. All things owe their origin and thus their continual existence to Him and therefore sustain inescapable and according to their own nature responsible relationships to the true and living God.

The first verse opens with the word: in the beginning. Here, as it were, all the gates are barred by God himself to our “curious questionings.” It is the straightforward language of daily life. We ask: the beginning of what? And the passage answers: the heavens and the earth. Nothing except God existed “before” the absolute beginning. Of course, questions arise now concerning time and eternity. But to speak of a “before” and an “after” with respect to eternity is, logically, a contradiction. It is a concession to man who is a creature “in time” and thus thinks only in temporal categories.

Augustine, perhaps, helps us when he speaks of God creating the world “with” (cum) time. Time is God’s creature. Thus it is never reduced to a purely relative human perspective by Scripture, as some philosophers and theologians have urged. Were this so, then history could have no abiding significance even for God who takes history with utmost seriousness. How different the Biblical message from the views of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions with their teachings on endless time, life as an illusion, etc. Against these, in view of their growing influence in our apostate western world, the church must also warn. For believers there is no flight into a realm of abstract or eternal ideas, impersonal mystical experiences, etc. Time and space are God’s created realities for our existence.

In the beginning . . . what? – Here follow three statements which give us, with amazing brevity and yet profundity, some insight into what appeared in the day when God created the heavens and the earth.

1. First of all, we receive a description of the condition of earth. On it God focuses the spotlight. Nor should we be surprised, since the Bible directs its message to and for man. Occasionally some reference will be made to the heavens again, but then only in so far as this is necessary for and related to man and his life upon earth. Although the Hebrew language does use adjectives to describe, we find in this verse three substantives (nouns), likely to strengthen the description for us. This method, for example, is also employed in Psalm 23:5 which reads in the original “My cup is overflow” (i.e., superabundance). The three nouns deserve careful attention, because in verse 2 many commentators of liberal or quasiliberal stripe have found references to the mythologies of the pagan religions.

“waste” (tohu) – signifying “emptiness,” or translated “vanity” as in Isa. 40:17, 23; 44:9; 59:4 where reference is made to the emptiness, nothingness, vacancy, or unreality of the heathen idols; also of the barrenness or solitude of the wilderness, as in Deut. 32:10; Job 12:24; Ps. 107:40.

“void” (vohu) – used as in Gen. 1:2 and Jeremiah 4:23 to describe the primal condition in the day of creation; also in Isa. 34:11 for the “confusion” or desolation of Edom when God arises in judgment (cf. also Isa. 24: 10 and 41:29 where tohu stresses the same idea).

“darkness-upon-the-face-of-the deep” – This is not a new sentence, rather a third description coordinated with the first two. Nor is the “deep” a flood. Rather, the word designates depths or abyss (cf. Job 28:14; Ps. 71:20). Indeed, it is used as waves in Ps. 42:7, but here it would imply introducing an element not mentioned in verse 1.

This, then, is a composite description of the “original” form of the heavens and the earth before the ordering work of the Lord began. Although the Hebrew has was, some commentators insist on translating this as became. This position was adopted by Chalmers a century ago, also by A. W. Pink in his Gleanings from Genesis,and by others who introduce the idea that before the ordering work of God which culminated in the creation of Adam this earth continued long in its primal state which would account for the “geological ages” of modern science. It then became waste and void at the time of Satan’s rebellion. No matter how we view this position, the text no positive indication in this direction. Nor are there any allusions to such a situation in rest of Scripture. A simple reading of Genesis 1 in its entirety clearly connects vs. 1 and 2 with 3f. and the first day.

2. The second description makes mention of the Spirit of God. Because of the Hebrew word used, this has been translated as the “breath” or “wind” which proceeds from God, a violent and tempestuous storm which raged across the waste, unformed, and darkness-covered earth. Some have even found allusions to strife with demonic forces resident in the unformed material. Thus God is represented as waging war against a creation which is rebellious, hard to manage—hardly in keeping with the “good” and “very good” which He pronounces upon it. More than that, such notions give rise to a deprecation of matter as inherently sinful or tending to sin–a thoroughly unbiblical view.

Our version has moved upon to describe the Spirit’s activities here. Others have translated it brooded, alluding to Deuteronomy 32: 11 which mentions God’s care of His people as like to that of a bird fluttering over its nest with young. It should be clear at once that Deuteronomy 32:11 doecs not permit the notion of brooding; rather that of guarding and caring for. Hence when some commentators again see allusions to heathen mythologies, certain of which speak of the primal world as “”an egg” out of which all things hatched, we must demur emphatically. This is reading into the text and it’s words what patently isn’t there but only in the imaginations of the commentators. Of course, it is plain that this statement adds an indispensable element to the description. Although it was waste and void and covered with darkness, God himself as Spirit watched over and was concerned with and preserved the world.

3. The next statement appears in the third verse. Often this is disjoined too much from the preceding. Yet the word anti should alert us to the fact that vss. 2 and 3 are intimately associated.

Just how long or how short was the time before vs. 3 we have no way of knowing. Yet, to all appearances, this is comprehended as the first day. On the length of the days of Genesis 1 cf. the footnote appended to the following lesson.

What must be affirmed here is God’s method of working. And God said. This is the key to the Biblical view of the origin of all things. He orders, and all things come into being; He commands, and they stand fast forever. Repeatedly this formula is used in Genesis 1. It is corroborated by many texts, not the least Psalm 33:6 and John 1;3 where the Second Person of the Trinity who became incarnate is associated clearly with the work of creation.

Can we, from these words, form an “adequate” conception of creation? This is the question raised time and again, especially by scholars. The more we read these seemingly simple words, the more profundity and puzzlement they seem to contain. Let us remember that we are here dealing with one of the mighty acts of God. Because they are God’s, they always exceed our capacities. With all our scientific advances in understanding mind and body, illuminating and profitable as these indeed are, we still face “mystery.” Who exhaustively grasps and traces the way of a child in the womb, the intricate relationships of the bodily organs to each other and the whole, the body-soul unity which is constitutive of man in distinction from all other living creatures? We know something, and what we know may at times he said to he truly known. And much the same, although in far greater degree, is true of the marvellous activities of the living God at creation.


1) No thinking Christian can read Genesis 1 without being at the same time deeply aware of what has become the “conflict” between Scripture and current “scientific” thought. A helpful introduction for you and the young people in your family is Enno Wolthuis: Science, God and You (Baker, 1963). It doesn’t aim at solving all your and my questions. With some of the statements some will disagree. However, the book deserves much more recognition than it has generally received among our people.

2) On the question of “the age of the earth” much ink has been spilled. Even among the most conservative Christians Ussher’s chronology (4004 B.C. ) has been widely repudiated, and not without some weighty Biblical evidence. The Bible, we affirm, is silent on this subject. Whether science can accurately date the age of the earth is also open to serious strictures and reservations. An informative and fascinating book on this subject is that of the late John De Vries: Beyond the Atom (Eerdmans, 1948), written in popular language. Although dated and tentatively suggesting “answers” with which many of us will not agree, it is well-worth reading. What is to be greatly deplored among our Reformed people in this country is the “silent-treatment” which most of them have given their own sons who seek to wrestle in obedience to the Scriptures with today’s issues. We are quick to criticize; exceedingly slow to encourage, take seriously, and praise. Possibly that’s one reason why confusion among us is running rampant.

3) Among evangelical Christians there continues to be much confusion concerning the neo-orthodox view of Creation. This need not surprise us, since all the “older” and “biblical” terms are constantly used. Hence this view has so much more appeal than that of the liberalism of forty and more years ago. But when two use the same words, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. By regarding the Genesis account as “salvation-history” they remove it from the realm of the actual, the factual, the “historical.” What we find here, so these men insist, is “a theological understanding” of what in any other terms is indescribable. It comes to us in a “cosmological framework” which modern man cannot accept. Yet the lessons taught are deemed important, indeed, indispensable for faith-knowledge.

Barth has dealt with Creation at great length in his Church Dogmatics, esp. III/1. To him it is not myth hut saga to hc interpreted “Christologically” so that creation is the external condition. of the covenant of grace in Christ; the covenant of grace in Christ is the internal meaning of creation. An attempt to understand his thought requires an almost totally different way of thinking about reality than the church has historically asked. In much of his writing there are, to be sure, sparkling exegetical insights. This, however, can rarely be said about his disquisitions on creation, where many speculative statements occur.

Brunner is at least much clearer on this point. He writes:

The Christian statement on Creation is not a theory of the way in which the world came into being—whether once for all or in continuous evolution—but it is an “existential” statement. In His revelation the Lord meets me, my Lord, as the Creator, as my Creator and the Creator of all things . . .

Everything, then, is reduced to the personal, the dynamic, the relational. We can say nothing about the structural and the manner in which it came about on the basis of Genesis. Van Til is correct in his The New Modernism when he regards it as a totally-other gospel. When listening to someone speak or preach on the Genesis account, we do well not only to hear the words but also to ask just what do these words mean to the speaker.

Questions for discussion

1 – Since the Bible claims to bring the message of salvation, why does it mention so many details relating to the origin of things? Give several reasons.

2 – How would you bring the gospel to a person who claims to deny the existence of God?

3 – Can you show that it takes more “faith” (blind faith, if you will) to accept the notion that all things came to pass by a long period of development than that God created in orderly fashion in six days? Why doesn’t this appeal usually mean much to the evolutionists?

4 – In which several senses does the Bible speak of “heaven”? Why these distinctions? Is heaven up or down or out there?

5 – Who is the Holy Spirit? What activities in connection with creation and the present order in nature are ascribed to him? Mention the texts. What does this mean for studying the world in school?

6 – How would you evaluate this statement: The Bible is not a book about science? What is meant by scientific? Why should believers engage in “scientific” studies? Can we in this enterprise adopt a “neutral” position towards what the Bible says about the origin of things?

7 – What do you understand by “anthropomorphic language” and “anthropomorphisms” in Scripture? How would you explain the beginnings of language among men? How do the evolutionists attempt to explain it?

8 – Explain Hebrews 11:1, 3. What kind of faith is this?

9 – What is meant by the “restitution” theory which places a long period between vss. 2 and 3? Do you know of anyone who holds this?

10 – Why do you think so many scholars, esp, in the past, have tried to find similarities and points of contact between the creation account in Genesis and the heathen mythologies? What would you say are some of the striking differences?

11 – What is the Reformed view concerning the relation between God’s “general” and his inscripturated, special revelation? (cf. Belgic Confession, Art. II; also Calvin) Can these two be contradictory? Can we “harmonize” them? Should we try to harmonize them, when they seem to differ, or simply accept both at the same time?

NOTE: The writer, Peter Y. De Jong, suggests that the questions in each case are not exhaustive and need not be followed slavishly; also that some of the lessons may have enough material for two meetings. – Editor

Scripture: Genesis 1:3–13
Read also – Acts 17:22–31; II Peter 3:1–7

A profound struggle – In our day, confessional Reformed churches throughout the world are involved in a profound struggle. It touches the very heart of man’s covenantal relationship to God. It concerns the question whether Scripture, because of all the new theological insights and scientific advances which are revolutionizing man’s thought-patterns and life, needs to be reinterpreted. What is at stake is more than the “reliability” of the Bible, on which all claim to be agreed; it concerns the “perspicuity” of the Bible. Does the Bible, as it comes to us, speak clearly? Can we, illumined by the Spirit, understand what it says? And—in one breath with that question—is this true of the Bible itself, so that men in ages past could safely live by its light in the assurance that it never leads us astray?

Here of course, a whole nest of questions comes into view.

In how far are the believer and the believing: church “dependent” on scholars for a correct understanding of the Biblical text? What is the relation of recent archeological finds to the “trustworthiness” of the Word? Does Scripture present us with a “world-view” (e.g., a three-storied universe) or not? Does modern science shed light on Scriptural givens concerning creation, the age of the earth, plant and animal development, etc.? How is God’s revelation in the created order wherein we live related to his inscripturated Word? The answers one gives to these and similar questions radically affect one’s interpretation of the Bible. And then, to plague us still more, we are compelled to face the question: Can two contradictory, mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture (its words, contents, and message which arc thoroughly interdependent) exist next to each other in a true, Christian, confessing church?

Much of this arises, usually, in connection with the opening chapters of Genesis. Let us not forget, however, that how one treats these will affect the treatment of the rest of the Bible. If this is saga-legend-myth, or a liturgical-recitative, or a “poem,” then how much of what is recorded here is factual? And if the factual may be questioned or reinterpreted in what plainly purports to be a “historical” account, then why do we have to accept as historical much in the “stories” of the Old Testament? And if these may thus be questioned, why not the miraculous in the New Testament?

It is by no means “innocent,” much less innocuous, to say that the important matter in these chapters is the message. How can we get the message without the words and the form in which these words come? Therefore, despite all the scholarly discussions, the church is thrown back on the exegetical task which begins with the basics of words and grammar and literary form. The driving of a wedge between the written record as it stands and the message it intends to convey is fraught with every kind of peril. No longer call we then know what God said and meant through his appointed messenger. We are left, instead, with the subjective interpretations of men, each of whom turns to his own way.

Remembering this, we will attempt to explain the creation account in the light of itself and the rest of Scripture. This includes the rejection—we acknowledge this cheerfully—of the “frame-work hypothesis” which is by no means as new and up to date as some recent advocates would have us believe. Such a position as ours invites its dismissal as unscholarly, superficial, old-fashioned, irrelevant to the “pressing” issues of our day. For this judgment these who make it are responsible. Each student of God’s Word must answer to no one less than God himself for what he has done with it.

The first day – Already attention has been called to the intimate connection, exegetically, of this section with the first two verses of Genesis 1. Likewise, we reflected on God’s “method” of creation: And God said.

How long the period was in which the earth remained in its “original” condition no one knows. Nor is there any clear indication or hint anywhere in Scripture. Whether this was a second, a minute, an hour, or much longer we have no way of discovering. God, who indeed takes time as His creation with divine seriousness, doesn’t give us a railroad schedule.

What is important is the “standpoint” from which God has been pleased through Moses, to reveal His work at creation. It concerns man and his relationship to God. Thus the earth comes into sharp focus, and that increasingly in this six-day account. Its preparation for man is thus the emphasis of the chapter, as Augustine also aptly indicates in his treatise: “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I send to you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and the moon;’ for He wanted to make Christians, not mathematicians.” No thinking believer is so foolish as to suppose the Bible a handbook for science of any kind. Yet since it is God’s Word, we may be sure that it is accurate (even though not comprehensive or exhaustive) in all that it affirms.

In how far the Second Person of the Trinity is “alluded to,” when Moses speaks of the divine method of creation, may also be left unanswered. That, in the light of God’s complete self-revelation in Scripture, we perhaps see “more” than Moses in no way detracts from the clarity of the Biblical message received by him and believed by the children of Israel.

What God created on that first day is light. This is against the dark background sketched in verse 2. Without light all existence as we know it is impossible. Nor was this light an attribute of God or an emanation from Him “who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable” (I Tim. 6:16). The nature and quality of this light and the manner in which it was maintained for the period called “day” is also not revealed. All this remains for us an impenetrable deed of God’s will to create. But the fact is again declared by the apostle in II Corinthians 4:6.

In language which even a child can grasp, the text speaks of God’s reaction. He saw . . . that it was good. He takes cognizance not only of the result of His speaking; He approves of it as answering to the purpose for which it was called into being. Likewise He now makes separation: divides it from darkness. And He called, gave names to both the light and the darkness; not simply as a matter of identification but, in accordance with the Biblical significance of name-giving, to declare His sovereign relationship to both. From now on light and darkness follow each other. On the question whether they succeeded each other in turn throughout the whole circuit of the world, or whether one part was dark while another half was light, Calvin (who here demonstrates he believed that the earth was round) refuses to make a decision.

Often we heal that all this comes to us in “anthropomorphic” language, with the insinuation that therefore we need not take the words too literally. They are really “symbolical,” which to many leaves the door wide-open for whatever meaning anyone may want to put on them. But, we ask in all candor, isn’t the whole Bible anthropomorphic? Aren’t all the comings of God to men therein recorded of this kind? Does this make them necessarily unclear, perhaps even quite unreliable? To be sure, this is an “accommodation” of God to us whom he calls into believing covenant fellowship. But He who formed man “in His image” and provided the capacities for speech can and does use it with a precision and reliability far exceeding ours.

Any mention of “anthropomorphic” language and representations in Scripture which allows for a Right into subjectivism, relativizing the very words of Scripture, seeking the truth beyond the words themselves, mysticism, vague symbolism, etc., is a justification for present-day “irrationalism” which deals a deathblow to the historic Christian faith. God doesn’t play around with His words; neither dare we. To be sure, this kind of argument makes sense only to those who hold to the classic Christian position on “verbal inspiration of the Bible.” Where God goes into hiding behind the human authors, we get not only another Bible, also another God, another Christ, another salvation! These are the issues which are involved, and the sooner the believing church recognizes this, the stronger it will be in the present-day struggle.

The second day – Again God in continuing His work to make the earth “habitable” for man engages in a dividing. This He does pursuing His unique method of calling forth by His word that which was not.

The firmament is here mentioned. It derives from a word meaning to stretch, to spread out, also to beat or tread out. Thus it is somewhat equivalent to our term “expanse.” The viewpoint is that of the ordinary man upon earth. This is the way it looks to him as he gazes upward. Thus it is described as being like a curtain or carpet rolled out above us (Ps. 104:2), like a molten looking glass (Job 37:18), like a transparent pavement of sapphire stone (Exod. 24:10). But this does not imply that the heavens are to be regarded as a solid mass. Even today we speak of “the vault of the heavens.”

The waters which are above are not some fancied ethereal waters but simply those which now are found in what we call the “atmosphere,” the clouds from which rain and snow fall upon the ground. Strictly speaking, the language is “non-scientific.” But this says something quite different than that it is “unscientific” and thus contrary to the assured results of science on this score.

Here, then, heaven (note the singular, in distinction from the plural in verse 1) is distinguished and divided from what we know as earth which will by God’s work become a suitable abode for man. Young is not satisfied with thinking here of the clouds, since he claims that the waters were above the firmament according to the account. He does not give another explanation. Aalders, however, insists that “under” and “above” in the original arc to be translated “on the underside with respect to the firmament” and “on the aboveside with respect to the firmament.” Supporting evidence for this he adduces (linguistically) from II Chronicles 26:19. This, it seems to us, answers the objection raised by Young. On what this heaven was before the work of the second day Scripture is completely silent.

It is this “silence” of Scripture which may disturb some readers. Why does God, who created all things and seeks to reveal in a measure His mighty acts to us, veil so much to our minds and eyes? Undoubtedly several reasons may be given. Calvin, who refers to this repeatedly, warns against all idle and curious speculations which so easily arouse our attention and turn us away from the Creator, whom we should adore, to the creature. God reveals that which He deems necessary for us to know, in order that our contemplation of His works may lead us to a true worship and faith. This goal is to be pursued not only by the “unlearned” but also by all who engage in scientific studies.

The third day – Not until the earth receives from God its distinct form do we read in greater detail what the Creator did to fashion it as man’s dwelling place. Light was called into being, in order that in its proper time earth might be furnished with plants and animals. Likewise, the firmament was prior to the separation made by God on the third day between the dry land and the seas. Here is a twofold work. The waters under the firmament are gathered together in one place; the land then appears. And both are called forth by the mighty word of the Lord.

To us, reflecting on the simple statement, the magnitude of this work shatters our imagination. Yet we learn to know our God also here as the one whose might is immeasurable. To Him all the waters of the sea are but as a few small drops; all the towering mountains as well as the wide prairies, steppes, and deserts but a small patch of land. Young comments correctly,

Nothing is said about means or method of accomplishment that we may concentrate in wonder and adoration upon him who alone can perform such a marvel . . . If process is here involved, Scripture does not mention that fact; the entire stress appears to be upon the directness with which the task was accomplished. At the same time, it could well be that in this work of division there were tremendous upheavals, so that the mountains were formed and the processes of erosion set in motion.

A second work accomplished on this day was that of covering the dry land with foliage. By His word God enables the earth to bring forth plants. Here a progress in the order of God’s works is indicated. Until now only the inorganic has appeared. Now the condition of earth allows for the appearance of “life,” the organic. The language used, however, is precise. No possibility exists, according to the text, that life can originate apart from the living and life-giving God. His sovereign will moves Him to speak the creative word. And by that word alone the earth brought forth grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind and trees bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after their kind.

Here, as throughout this account, distinction is made. This clearly shows that there is order in God’s work as well as individualization. The difference among the “kinds” of vegetation was original; they did not descend from some common ancestor. With all this the earth is now greatly enhanced and enriched. In distinction from previous creatures, these can perpetuate themselves. But this “fertility,” so often the impersonal object of worship by the heathen, derives exclusively from the personal God and is controlled by His ordinances. Any notion like von Rad’s on the maternal participation of the earth in creation, or like Gunkel’s on the inherent fruitfulness of earth, is disallowed by the Geneis account.

Once again, God beheld that all that He made on this day was good. Therein He could delight Himself, as He docs in all the works of His hands. And these works, so the inspired writer feels compelled to record for our instruction, are appropriate to this day which is carefully distinguished by evening and morning from the other days.

Exegetically, everything in Genesis 1:1–2:3 points to a chronological view of the days of creation. Nowhere is there the least indication that the inspired writer intended to teach some kind of “framework” explanation and interpretation. Why, we may ask, is it difficult for men to accept the chronological view so majestically yet simply and straightforwardly stated? Young opines, and not without reason, that “although men pay lip service to the doctrine of creation, in reality they find it a difficult doctrine to accept.” To which may well be added: Perhaps their God is really too small for them as they engage in their scientific pursuits and speculations.


1) On the “framework” hypothesis, which does not find strict chronology in the days mentioned in Genesis, the following may be observed. Although today it is widely discussed, and possibly widely accepted, in certain Reformed circles, it is by no means new. Already in 1924 Prof. A. Noordtzij introduced it in his Gods Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis J. H. Kok, Kampen). He urges: “Creation is totally different than the beginnings of human history and therefore Genesis 1 may be interpreted differently than Genesis 2 ff.” This view has been popularized during the last fifteen years by N. H. Ridderbos: Is there a conflict between Genesis 1 and natural science? (Eerdmans, 1957)

For a discussion and evaluation of this view, especially on exegetical grounds, cf. Edward J. Young: Studies in Genesis One, pp. 43–105 (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1964). The many exegetical difficulties in which the “framework” hypothesis involves itself are thoroughly discussed. Young, we believe, shows accurately where the differing theories concerning also Genesis 1 originate, namely, in different and contradictory views of the Bible itself. He writes:

The following three studies in the first chapter of Genesis are based upon the assumption that this chapter is a revelation from God, and that it tells us about the origin of things. It is not regarded as the product of the mature reflection of the Israelites, nor as an account devised by the faith and thought of Israel of old (Foreword).

This approach assumes “propositional revelation” and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, two convictions held by the Christian church from the very beginning but now widely questioned and attacked even by those who insist on being recognized as “Bible believing,” “evangelical,” and “conservative.” At bottom, therefore, also of the interpretation of Genesis 1 lies the most basic question of all: How can and does God speak authoritatively to man?

2) On interpreting “day” as “period,” H. C. Leupold in his Exposition of Genesis, Vol. 1 (Baker, 1950) says:

There ought to be no need of refuting the idea that yom (day) means period. Respectable dictionaries . . . know nothing of this notion . . .” He quotes Skinner (modernist) as saying also that such an interpretation “. . . is opposed to the plain sense of the passage and has no warrant in Hebrew usage.” Leupold also evaluates other objections to considering these literal days of twenty-four hours. pp. 57, 58.

3) Often appeal is made to a kind of “schematic” arrangement in Genesis 1, the second set of three days paralleling the first set. Young, pp. 68–73, discusses this in considerable detail. While recognizing a measure of parallel, he finds many divergences and warns, again on exegetical grounds, against drawing conclusions contrary to the “chronological” interpretation from this.

4) It is further interesting and instructive to note the schematic use of words in this account. Delitzsch years ago called attention to this. Ten creation words are introduced by: and he said. The result, and there was is mentioned several times, as also the word good. And he allied, as well as and he blessed, are used three times. These numbers recur frequently in Scripture as having “symbolical” meaning. To use this as an argument against the factualness of what is here recorded, however, is illegitimate. Just because such numbers are used, also with symbolical meaning, in connection with tabernacle and temple construction does not allow us to endorse the notion that there really was neither a tabernacle nor a temple in Israel.

5) Despite the ambivalence of his conclusions, Derek Kidner in Genesis (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967) has some very pertinent things to say about the days of creation. Discussing various views which oppose a six-day creation, he writes:

The assumption common to these interpretations is that God would not have us picture the creation as compressed into a mere week. But this may be exactly what God does intend us to do. The creation story has stood as a bulwark against a succession of fashionable errors —polytheism, dualism, the eternity of matter, the evil of matter, astrology—and not least, against every tendency to empty human history of meaning. It resists this nihilism explicitly, in displaying man as God’s image and regent; but also implicitly, in presenting the tremendous ads of creation as a mere curtain-raiser to the drama that slowly unfolds throughout the length of the Bible. The prologue is over in a page; there are a thousand to follow. pp. 56, 57.

Kidner also cannot agree with views which sec in Genesis 1 only a polemic, or else a kind of framework, or a liturgy, or a poem. He writes:

Yet to the present writer the march of the days is too majestic a progress to carry no implication of ordered sequence; it also seems oversubtle to adopt a view of the passage which discounts one of the primary impressions it makes on the ordinary reader. It is a story, not only a statement (pp, 54, 55).

6) On the darkness. This is not, as some modern commentators opine, the introduction of the ideas of conflict or chaos. Here is the watchful Creator who assigns to everything its value (vs. 40.), place (4b), and meaning (5a). “Darkness is part of the whole that is ‘very good’; it is not abolished, only subordinated” (Kidner, p. 47).

Questions for discussion

1 – What do you understand by the “perspicuity” of the Bible? What about some things hard to be understood in II Peter 3:16?

2 – Do you think the church should officially take a position on whether Genesis 1 should be understood chronologically or as a “framework” for our understanding? Give reasons for your answer.

3 – What do you understand by propositional revelation? Why is this so much attacked and ridiculed in our day?

4 – What is your view of the length of the creation days? Give reasons for your answer.

5 – What kind of light do you think there was before the fourth day? Is all our light derived from the sun?

6 – Why does the Bible so often speak of light as signifying that which is divine, good, etc., and darkness as that which is connected with sin, death, etc.? Can such an interpretation be introduced into this passage?

7 – How much “process” do you think occurred on the third day?

8 – What is the meaning and importance of the phrase after their kind? Why does the Bible present this in such a childlike way? In view of Moses’ instruction in all the learning of the Egyptians, don’t you think he could and should have given a more detailed account?

9 – How would you explain that m,my heathen religions with their “nature” worship so often have engaged in immoral ceremonies?

10 – Why do men generally find it so hard to really believe that God created the world by His word?

11 – How does Paul in preaching to the Athenians appeal to the creation account? What details does he mention? Shouldn’t he simply have begun with Christ and salvation?

12 – Does Paul’s message have anything to say about the relation which preaching and teaching should discover, proclaim and insist upon between creation and salvation?

13 – What does Peter have to say about creation? To what other great events of God does he link this? How did a denial of one or more of these produce a godless approach to life?