Genesis 1:1: independ/subord...

Ian Hutchesson mc2499 at
Sun Dec 12 09:06:28 EST 1999

With regard to Gen1:1-2, peter_kirk at wrote:

>I see the following possibilities:
>A) God created, after that the earth was without form and void...
>B) God created, before that the earth was without form and void...
>C) God created over a period of time, during that time the earth was 
>without form and void...
>D) God created over a period of time, at the beginning of that time 
>the earth was without form and void...
>B) seems unlikely for two reasons, first because there is no 
>signalling of this in the text 

Dear Peter,

We have at least two warning signs that we need care with the text. 

1) we've already seen that x-qatal sequences are rare (if there are
  actually such beasts). If this is such a sequence then its use here
  needs to be explained.

2) the clause starts with br'$yt

  in almost all occasions of the use of r'$yt we find a specification
  added, eg "the beginning of his strength" (Gen49:3, see also Deu11:12,
  21:17, Ps111:10, Pr1:7, etc), the two exceptions I've found are
  Eccl7:8, where the implied object is clear, while Is46:10, is generic,
  "the end [of things] I declare from the beginning [of them]"

  the related r'$wn is used without qualification, eg Ruth3:10 and
  1Chr17:9 [br'$wnh]

>and secondly because of the logical 
>difficulty of the earth existing (though without form and void) before 
>it was created. 

This seems to be a problem imported by you. The logical difficulty I see
with what you propose is still the fact that God first creates chaos and
then from that the world. This is a superfluous act for a god that can
simply use his will to create something. God does not create chaos [l' br'
thw] - Is45:18. 

While your reading might be possible on logical grounds, it is not attested
to in any other early creation account -- including that which it was
indirectly derived from.

>There is the same logical problem in the "When God 
>began to create" interpretation, if, as I do, one takes BR) to imply 
>forming something that previously did not exist 

As the qal is only used of God, it's hard to say the exact significance of
the verb, but with the pi`el we find people cutting down [br'] wood
Josh17:15, so I wouldn't be too certain about your understanding of the word.

>(not necessarily ex 
>nihilo) rather than changing the state of something which already 

In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth,...

Now it is important to note that we are given the picture of God creating
the heavens and the earth in vv3-13, ie that which is alluded to in v1 is
narrated in vv3-13 (the formation of the heavens and the earth). Verse 1
doesn't add anything to the *narrative* other than a definite starting
point, unless you would like to claim that God created the heavens and the
earth and the result was thw wbhw, requiring the re-creation of the heavens
and the earth in vv3-13. This would seem a consequence of your necessarily
creatio-ex-nihilo reading. It seems highly improbable.

As I have pointed out from Wisdom 11:17, God created the world "out of
formless matter", which is consistent with the earliest understandings of
creation as evinced in the various ane creation accounts. What you propose
is that Wisdom, going against your understanding of creation, did not
reflect the Hebrew tradition of creatio ex nihilo, but went back to the
oldest ideas of creation, yet you are unable to show something before
Wisdom which clearly manifests creatio ex nihilo, ie you'd like Wisdom to
swim against the current that you haven't demonstrated existed. You at
least need to show that your understanding existed prior to Wisdom. It
would also be nice for you to explain why Wisdom shouldn't follow what you
consider to have been the initial idea.

>C) is logically possible, but unlikely, for one would expect the state 
>to change during the process of creation.
>D) is almost equivalent to the "When God began to create" 
>interpretation (even without its underlying understanding of the 
>grammar), but (so avoiding the logical problem) could also include a 
>first step of God creating a void earth - God creating chaos, if you 
>like, as a raw material. Thus one might paraphrase as "In the 
>beginning God created... After the first stage, the earth was..." I 
>accept that this interpretation is possible. 

Would you accept it if it didn't parallel your creatio ex nihilo scenario? 

>In this case 1:1 could be a summary of the whole of 1:1-2:3.
>But I still think that A), a simple sequence, is the most natural 
>interpretation, and so, in the absence of indicators of anything else, 
>most likely to be the author's intention.

Your interpretation seems no more natural than others. In fact it relies on
making a structure that is either extremely rare or non-existent (the
x-qatal sequence that yields a narrative). Given this I can't see how you
can conclude what is or what is not most likely. It would actually seem
less likely if you remember how r'$yt is used throughout the OT/HB. Taken
with the literary analysis, the literary-historical context and the ancient
understanding as seen in Wisdom, Gen1 is certainly another creation by
giving order to chaos.



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