Genesis 1:1 Is The First Event, Not A Summary -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 79:1 (Spring 2017)
Article: Genesis 1:1 Is The First Event, Not A Summary
Author: Vern S. Poythress


Genesis 1:1 Is The First Event, Not A Summary

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Commentaries regularly discuss three main interpretations of Gen 1:1 in relation to the subsequent verses. (1) According to the first, traditional interpretation, Gen 1:1 describes the initial event among God’s acts of creation. Verse 2 then gives circumstantial information about the state of the earth at an early point. (2) According to the second interpretation, Gen 1:1 functions as a temporal subordinate clause: “In the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth, the earth was without form....” (3) According to the third interpretation, Gen 1:1 is a summary of the entire sequence of divine acts described in vv. 2–31. It does not describe the very first event that led to the creation of the earth and its unformed state in v. 2. Rather, the first act of making things starts with v. 3, and Gen 1 offers no comment on how the unformed earth of v. 2 came into being.1

The second interpretation has had a good many advocates, but it seems to be fading, and it has received a number of convincing refutations.2 For the sake of brevity, we confine ourselves to the debate between the first and the third interpretation. The first interpretation says that Gen 1:1 is the initial event, and accordingly may be designated the initiation view. The third interpretation says that Gen 1:1 is a summary and accordingly may be designated the summary view.

The initiation view was common among earlier Jewish and Christian interpreters,3 but it is no longer in such favor. In his 1987 commentary, Gordon Wenham indicates that “the majority” of modern commentators favor the summary view.4

I. Major Arguments For The Initiation View

The initiation view still has its defenders. The commentaries by Collins, Wenham, and others a...

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