From ancient times persons have had a keen interest in the origin of the universe. Stories or fragments of stories about creation have survived in the literature of several ancient nations. Biblical writers may reflect an awareness of these extra-biblical accounts, but their consistent testimony is that Israel's God was the Creator. His creative activities proceeded in orderly and methodical fashion toward the fulfillment of His purpose to create “good heavens” and “a good earth.”
Creation accounts in the Bible never function simply to satisfy a childlike curiosity to know “how it all began.” The biblical writers' concern with God as Creator grew out of their knowledge of Him as Redeemer.
Genesis 1-11 serves as prologue to God's redemptive purpose in calling Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). Similarly, in
Isaiah 40:1 concern with God as Creator is in a larger context of concern with God as Redeemer from Babylonian captivity.
Important questions about creation include the following:
1. Where in the Bible is the subject of creation encountered?
2. What is the function of biblical references to creation?
3. What literature contemporary with the Bible contains references to creation?
4. How are biblical and extra-biblical references to creation related?
5. What cosmology is reflected in the Bible?
6. What is the time frame of creation in the Bible?
7. What is humanity's place in creation?
8. How is the New Testament concept of the new creation in Christ related to the biblical concept of physical creation?
Biblical References to Creation Probably the best known reference to creation in the Bible is
Genesis 1:1-2:4. That certainly is not the only place in Scripture where the subject is treated. Psalmists mentioned creation or the Creator frequently (Psalms 8:3-4;
Psalms 104:24,Psalms 104:30;
Psalms 145:10). The second half of Isaiah (Psalms 40-66) has four direct references to creation (Isaiah 40:28;
Isaiah 65:17). Job alluded to creation in two speeches (Job 10:8;
Job 26:7), and God's answer to Job contains one reference to the subject (Job 38:4).
The New Testament reveals that Jesus “made” all things (John 1:3) and that “all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Paul's assertion recorded in
Ephesians 3:9 is that God “created all things.” The writer of Hebrews notes that Jesus was the agent God used to create the world (Hebrews 1:2). Because God created all things, He is worthy of “glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). Luke testified that the living God “made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15). The consistent report of the Bible is that God is the Source of the whole created order.
The Function of Biblical Creation References Genesis is a book about beginnings. The centerpiece of the book is God's redemptive activity following the fall of man. God began by calling Abram out of Ur, by entering into a covenant with him, and by making promises to bless him and to bless all the families of the earth through him.
Genesis 1-11 is prologue to the patriarchal stories (Genesis 12-50). It sets a world stage on which God acted in choosing one man in order to bless all men.
Genesis 1-2 contain two accounts of creation, the order of man's creation coming at the end in the first and at the beginning in the second. God's creation, “good” as it was (Genesis 1:4,Genesis 1:10,Genesis 1:12,Genesis 1:21,Genesis 1:25,Genesis 1:31), soon became bad through human rebellion against God. The accounts of creation in
Genesis 1-2 prepare the reader for the record of the first people being placed in the Garden of Eden, temptation by the serpent, rebellion against God, expulsion from the garden, and the degenerating effect of sin in society.
God's judgment on sin in the form of a flood did not put an end to sin (Genesis 6-9). Noah himself carried sin into the society that survived the flood. Even destroying the tower of Babel, confusing the people's language, and scattering them over the face of the earth did not stop the spread of sin (Genesis 11:1).
Genesis 11:1 ends by introducing Terah, the father of Abram, through whom God would bless the world in spite of its rebellion against Him. The link between creation and redemption is clear.
Isaiah reminded weary exiles that the God he proclaimed as their Redeemer and Sustainer was “the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28). The prophet linked God's redemptive activity with His creative activity (Isaiah 43:7,Isaiah 43:15). He went on to declare God's plan to “create new heavens and a new earth” as well as a new people (Isaiah 65:17-18).
Job lamented that God's hands “made and fashioned” him but for some unexplained reason turned about to “destroy” him (Job 10:8). In a later speech Job expressed the effortless manner in which God created the universe (Job 26:7-11) and defeated Rahab and the serpent (Job 26:12-13). The Lord's speech in response to Job (Job 38-39) makes clear that God is the Creator and that man had no part in creation.
The psalmists' concerns with God as Creator were related to people's place in creation (Psalms 8:3-4), to God's redemptive activity (Psalms 74:17;
Psalms 95:5), and to praise for the Creator (Psalms 100:3;
Psalms 24:1-2). One psalmist referred to the creation to contrast its perishable nature with the imperishable nature of the Creator (Psalms 102:25-27).
The three doxologies in Amos (Amos 4:13;
Amos 9:5-6) magnify God the Creator and Controller of creation. Malachi's reference to God as Creator stresses the fact that one God created all people (Malachi 2:10). This fact forms the basis of the prophet's appeal for faithfulness among covenant members.
John based God's worthiness to receive “glory and honor and power” on His creative activity (Revelation 4:11). By God's will “all things” existed and were created. John's testimony is that “the Word” made all things (John 1:3) and that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14).
Paul's perspective was that Christians represent God's workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). The gospel that God called Paul to preach had been hidden in God who “created all things” (Ephesians 3:9). He agreed with John that Jesus the Savior, the firstborn of all creation, was Himself the Source of all creation (Colossians 1:16-17).
The author of Hebrews wrote of God's revelation through prophets of old, but “in these last days” God spoke through a Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Son created the world. Like many Old Testament passages, this passage in Hebrews links God's creative activity with His redemptive activity.
The people of Lystra took Barnabas and Paul to be gods (Acts 14:11). Paul and Barnabas set the record straight as they pointed to “the living God which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15).
Relationship of Biblical and Extra-biblical References to Creation The Enuma Elish (“When on High”) is probably the best known extra-biblical reference to creation. This Mesopotamian account reflects a striking correspondence in various details and in order of events when it is compared with the biblical references to creation. What is the explanation for these similarities? Did the Babylonians follow the biblical account? Did the biblical authors follow Babylonian prototypes? Did both Babylonian and biblical writers rely on some unidentified ultimate source?
Based on the dating of Babylonian and biblical materials, apparently biblical writers were aware of Babylonian prototypes. Though the two accounts are similar in some ways, they are poles apart in other ways. Conflict between rival deities dominates the Babylonian story of creation. The biblical accounts feature one God creating a good, orderly, and harmonious universe. Their cosmogony (theory of the origin of the universe) is similar; their religion is radically different. Biblical writers seem to be conscious of Babylonian sources, but they take a critical position toward them.
Human Place in Creation Both detailed stories of creation in the Bible feature people at center stage, even though the creation of persons is last in the order of creative acts in
Genesis 1:1-2:4 but first in
Genesis 2:4-24. The author of
Psalms 8:1 seems surprised at the attention the Creator gives to mortal humans formed from the dust (Psalms 8:4). Yet God gave humans a place of prominence and set them over the rest of creation (Psalms 8:5-8). “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels” (Psalms 8:5) may be a commentary on the Genesis statement that God “created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).
The language of
Genesis 1:1 pictures God at a distance speaking humans into existence. The language of
Genesis 2:1 portrays God with a “hands on” closeness shaping Adam and Eve like a potter forming a clay vessel. “Create” (bara') is the dominant verb of creation in
Genesis 1:1. “Formed” (yatsar) is the controlling verb of creation in
New Creation and Physical Creation The Old Testament is consistent in its use of the verb “create” (bara'). Only God serves as subject of the verb. Creation is the work of God. People may “make” (‘asah) and “form” (yatsar). God alone creates (bara').
Psalms 51:10 may reflect a transition in usage of “create” (bara') to designate a purely physical work. A clean heart is the object of the verb “create” in this Psalm. Isaiah employed “create” in reference to “new heavens and a new earth” as well as “Jerusalem” and “her people” (Isaiah 65:17-18). Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being “in Christ” and thereby being “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Created in Christ Jesus” is Paul's terminology for spiritual salvation in
Ephesians 2:10. The point in all of these references is that God alone is the Author of spiritual redemption.
God is the Creator of all things. All things belong to God. God gave humans dominion over creation, a stewardship assignment. Therefore, people are accountable directly to God for their use or abuse of creation. God created “good” heavens and a “good” earth. The entrance of human sin has had an adverse effect on creation (Hosea 4:1-3). Paul pictured that the whole of creation “groaneth and travaileth” under the burden of human sin (Romans 8:22). He also wrote of a time when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 NAS). Paul anticipated a day when God would restore the whole of creation to its original goodness.
Billy K. Smith