Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation -- By: Merrill Frederick Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 115:457 (Jan 1958)
Article: Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation
Author: Merrill Frederick Unger


Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation

Merrill F. Unger

The majestic opening verse of Genesis : “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth,” apparently does not refer to the original sinless and perfect earth brought into existence in dim antiquity. That original sphere, says Isaiah, was created “not a waste” but “formed to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18). The laying of its cornerstone was celebrated by the sinless song of “the morning stars” and the joyous shouts of “all the sons of God” (angels), perhaps millions of years ago.

Order out of Chaos

The Genesis account evidently opens in a much later context and, like the Mesopotamian creation stories, begins with chaos. Already the heavens and the earth had had a long history. Commentators commonly make two assumptions concerning the first verse of the Bible, neither of which is required by the original language. First, the phrase “in the beginning” refers absolutely to the beginning of the material universe denoted by the expression “the heavens and the earth” and second, the Hebrew word bara' (“create”) in Genesis 1:1 means “not formed from any pre-existing materials, but formed out of nothing.”

These assumptions, however, lead to conclusions at variance with the simple and natural grammatical interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2 in its connection with what follows, besides involving difficulties of reconciliation with other Biblical passages, as well as the accepted facts of science.

For example, if Genesis 1:1 refers to the original creation of the universe out of nothing, Genesis 1:2 must either be construed to be the original chaotic state in which the earth was created or to be the result of a subsequent judgment (the gap theory). But the first interpretation is contradicted by both Scripture and theology. Why should a perfect Creator create an original imperfect and chaotic earth?—the fact of which is expressly denied by revealed truth recorded in Isaiah 45:18 and completely at variance with the ecstatically joyous dedication of the primeval earth when it came forth perfect from the Creator’s hand, as described by Job (Job 38:4–7).

The second interpretation, while it avoids the Scriptural and theological difficulties of the first, runs into grammatical and etymological problems. In the original languag...

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