Genesis 1:1 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 is often used to support the claim that God created time, and thus God is outside of time and sees all the future in one instant. Genesis 1:1 is said to be God creating all that exists. It is claimed that time is something that exists, thus time is created in Genesis 1:1.

The striking problems with this position should be obvious.

First, this verse says nothing about “time” being created. That has to be assumed onto the verse. The assumption is counter to normal Jewish thought throughout the Bible that does not see “time” as a thing to be manipulated. There is no slowing of time, reversing time, time travel, or any similar concepts in the Bible. Time is not a “thing” in normal Jewish thought.

Second, the verse just talks about the “heavens and the earth”. Perfectly rational people would be able to claim that this verse is just about creating the physical world. This does not event have to be about creating a spiritual “heaven”, as birds fly in the “heaven” in verse 20. The assumption that “time” is created is unwarranted.

Third, Biblical scholarship such (as Dr. Michael Heiser (known as “liberal”), Dr. James Allman (known as “conservative”), and Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (a secular scholar)) seems to be fairly united that Genesis 1:1 is not an “initial event”. Instead this is a summary of what is happening in the chapter, or, in conjunction with the following verses, is setting up the preconditions before God starts creating. This is most evident in the JPS:

When God began to create the heaven and the earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water – God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

One can still see this in modern translations:

Gen 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Gen 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Compare to Genesis 2:4:

Gen 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
Gen 2:5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,
Gen 2:6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—
Gen 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Notice the starting sentence is prepping the story. It informs the reader about what the story is depicting and then gives starting conditions. In Genesis 1:1, water and a formless earth exist. In Genesis 2:4, no plants exist and God uses rain to create vegetation. This is before creating man.

In short, Genesis 1:1 has nothing to do with metaphysics. God is not creating “time”. That assumption is a fairly presumptuous one, at best.

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