Last updated: April 14, 2009
English Translation (ESV)
1:1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The 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.
3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
The translation and meaning of verse 1 is contested among scholars. At issue is whether the verse depicts (1) the absolute beginning of creation as an act of God or (2) the existence of matter before the creation of the heavens and the earth. Both views can be supported on grammatical grounds but the traditional view, that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), can be supported with additional lines of evidence. First, it agrees with the accents in the Masoretic Text (MT) and the translations in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate. Second, it is consistent with the anti-pagan message of the rest of 1:1-2:3. Pagan myths depict the gods creating the world from preexistent matter which is outside their divine creative activity, whereas Genesis 1:1-2:3 depicts a God who is absolutely transcendent over his material. Third, it creates a brief, terse sentence that is consistent with the other sentences in 1:1-2:3. Finally, later Jews and Christians most likely derived their belief in creation out of nothing1 from this passage and the Bible’s emphasis on God as the sole creator2.
Unlike pagan cosmologies Genesis shows no interest in the question of God’s origin. His existence before the creation of the world is assumed and his nature is expressed through his actions. Throughout this passage the Hebrew word for God is elohim, the general term for deity, and not the divine name YHWH. It connotes universalism and abstraction and thus may be more appropriate for the transcendent God of creation3.
The Hebrew word translated “created” (bara) is used fifty times in the Hebrew Bible, always with God as its subject4. “It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human capacity to reproduce. The verb always refers to the completed product, never to the material of which it is made”5.
The phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a merism, an expression of totality by the use of two polar opposites, meaning the observable universe in this instance6. No single word in biblical Hebrew corresponds to the English word universe7. According to Psalm 33:6, 9; 2 Esdras 6:38; and Hebrews 11:3 God spoke the universe into existence.
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.
The Hebrew words tohu and wabohu are nouns, not adjectives. Victor P. Hamilton translates the first phrase of this verse as, “And the earth – it was a desert and a wasteland”8. The phrase does not mean “chaos” but refers to earth as an unproductive and uninhabited place9. There is no indication of how long the earth was in this state. Days 1-3 give the earth form and days 4-6 fill the void10.
In Enuma Elish the Babylonian goddess associated with the primordial deep, Tiamat, is killed by Marduk and her corpse is split in two and used by Marduk to form heaven and earth. The similarity between her name and the Hebrew word for the deep (tehom) has led some scholars to suggest a Babylonian background to this passage. But this is unnecessary because (1) neither darkness nor the deep is personified in this passage, (2) many ancients believed in a primordial watery mass, and (3) both the Hebrew term and the Babylonian term are derived from a common Semitic word meaning the Hebrew term is not derived linguistically from the Babylonian term11.
Based on Ugaritic passages and Deuteronomy 32:11 we can determine that merahepet describes the action of birds hovering. Though the Hebrew term ruah can mean wind, breath, or spirit, spirit fits best in this context as it makes the most sense as a hovering, creative force. The Hebrew alphabet does not distinguish between upper case and lower case and therefore we cannot decide whether a translation should read “spirit” or “Spirit”. Regardless, we should not insert Trinitarian ideas into this passage12. This picture of God alerts us to God’s imminent action13.
1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light
God is entirely independent of creation. He can effortlessly speak things into existence. The fullness of divine power in this passage is quite different from the tension, resistance, and strife that characterize other ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cosmologies14.
The phrase “God said” is repeated in verses 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, and 29. However, only light comes into existence solely by God’s speech. The other objects of creation are created by God’s speech plus some subsequent divine activity. Thus one cannot separate 1:1-2:3 from 2:4-25 by asserting that in the first passage God creates through speech but in the second passage God creates by action15.
This light is not associated with the sun, moon, or stars. We are probably to believe that God is the source of the light as he is in other biblical passages16.
1:4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
The pagan notion of primordial evil is not present in this passage17. God’s pronouncement that the light was good precedes the separation, unlike in verses 6-8 and 14-19. Therefore it is the light itself that is good and not merely the separation of light from darkness. The separation envisioned by this verse is the assignment of light and darkness to their respective spheres or slots. It does not mean they were once one entity and then were pulled apart18. The meaning of the Hebrew word for “good” (tob) is as fluid as the meaning of the English word. In this passage it means that creation accomplishes God’s purposes19.
1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Prior to the creation of day and night, time was as undifferentiated as space20. The naming of the elements shows God’s mastery21. To name something or someone implied dominion or ownership22. But why, if God called the light (or) Day (yom), is light called light (or) throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible? It is because God called the period of light Day and the period of darkness Night. “In metonymy the meaning of a word is extended to include things closely related to it”23.
Since this verse has evening preceding morning many scholars believe this is evidence that days in the Hebrew Bible are reckoned from sunset to sunset. But this is clearly not always the case24. The much simpler observation is that since God just created daytime, nighttime would be the next period in an alternating sequence of day and night25. In this passage divine creativity is suspended at night and resumed during the day26.
The last sentence of this verse literally reads: “And there was evening, and there was morning: one day”27. The other days conclude with ordinal numbers (”a second day”, “a third day”, etc.). This is a known biblical form28.
Those trying to reconcile a literal reading of this passage with science often point out that the Hebrew word for day (yom) can mean an indefinite period of time in order to show that the chronology of this passage does not contradict the chronology determined by science. However, the meaning of yom must be determined by the context. The term means an indefinite period of time when it is used in a phrase like “in that day.” But this passage does not provide that context and speaks of numbered days with evenings and mornings. A twenty-four hour day is meant29.
1:6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
“The Hebrew noun rakia [expanse] is unparalleled in cognate languages. The verbal form is often used for hammering out metal or flattening out earth, which suggests a basic meaning of ‘extending’”30.
The “expanse” describes both the place in which the luminaries were set (vv. 14-15, 17) and the sky where the birds are observed (v. 20). Thus Genesis’ description of the “expanse” is phenomenological – to the observer on earth, the sun and stars appear to sit in the skies while at the same time birds glide through the atmosphere, piercing the skies. In the Old Testament elsewhere there is evidence that the Hebrews understood that clouds produced rain and thus, from a phenomenological perspective, “water” can be described as belonging to the upper atmosphere.31
1:7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.
The LXX has the phrase “And it was so” at the end of verse 6. In verses 9, 11, 15, and 24 the phrase follows God’s opening declaration, while in verse 30 it follows the report of God’s action.
1:8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
In this verse the Hebrew term for “heaven” (samayim) refers to the sky that we see and not to the abode of God or a place where people go after they die32.
The theological significance of God’s creation of the skies is the clarification that God alone rules the powers of the heavens. Divine rule of the skies was particularly important for Sumerian religion, which gave prominent place to the heavens in its pantheon of gods (cf. 1:14). It was Anu, the sky god, and Enlil, god of the atmosphere, who established and deposed the kings of the Sumerian city-states. Baal in the Ugaritic pantheon is identified as the “Rider of the Clouds.” He was the god of storm and rain (cf. 1 Kgs 18), but Israel’s faith declares that Yahweh is the source of heaven’s powers (Ps 68:4). The passage therefore asserts that the heavens and their celestial inhabitants are merely instruments to serve God and his earthly creatures; they are not autonomous authorities.33
The MT does not contain God’s declaration that the expanse was good while the LXX does. Is this due to an omission in the MT or an addition in the LXX? In trying to answer this question one must also note that the third day contains two declarations that something was good. I find the most likely explanation is that the LXX adds God’s declaration for consistency and that the MT is the correct reading. There are at lest two non-exclusive reasons why the original author may have omitted the declaration for the second day and included two declarations on the third day. First, he may have viewed the creation of the expanse as only the first stage to the emergence of dry land on the third day34. Second, he may have believed that “rain has no value unless there is dry land to be fructified; the creative acts relating to water are not completed until the third day, the account of which appropriately records the formula twice”35. The translator of the LXX missed these reasons and added in God’s declaration.
1:10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
This is the last time in the the context of creation that God names anything. This responsibility is later delegated to man36. There was a shift from the heavens and earth in verse 1 to the earth in verse 2. There is a shift from the waters and dry land in verses 9-10 to the dry land alone in verses 11-12. Also, the waters are mentioned before the land in verse 9 while the land is mentioned before the waters in verse 1037. We can see the focus is shifting towards the land and to humanity. “The seas are not independent forces to be feared and worshiped but creations that respond to the direct commands of God”38.
1:11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.
Each plant (and later animals and humans) is created with the ability to propagate itself39. “The significance of this . . . is that the sources of power in what we call nature, which were personified and deified in the ancient world, are now emptied of sanctity. The productive forces of nature exist only by the will of one sovereign Creator and are not independent spiritual entities. There is no room in such a concept for the fertility cults that were features of ancient Near Eastern religions”40.
Those who deny evolution may equate “kind” with “species” and claim that this passage means new species cannot develop from old ones. But the term “kind” is not as technical as “species”. The text does not say the first kinds of plants and animals are the only kinds that ever were or could be. Rather the text explains that things work the way they do because God intended them to work that way41.
1:13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day
The two creative acts of day three are not unrelated. Soil, water sources, plants, and seeds are all part of vegetation and agriculture42.
1:14-15 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.
These verses are describing the creation of light-bearers (maor), not light (or) as in verse 3. Their functions are noted in these verses and then repeated in verses 17-18 for emphasis. Astral deities were very common in the ancient Mediterranean and this passage makes it clear that it is foolish to worship such deities43.
1:16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars
The Hebrew words for “sun” (semes) and “moon” (yareah) also served as the names for deities in neighboring cultures (Shamash the sun god and Yarih the moon god). By not using those terms the author is making sure the reader is not led to believe that gods were being created44. The stars are assigned no role, implying astrology has no basis (cf. Jeremiah 10:2).
1:20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
“Water does not here possess inherent, independent generative powers as it does in pagan mythologies. It produces marine life only in response to the divine command”45. The phrase “and it was so” is omitted in the MT but present in the LXX46.
1:21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
In this passage the Hebrew word tannin (“sea creatures”) refers to sea creatures the Israelites were familiar with and not to mythical beasts47.
This specification expresses an unspoken antipagan polemic. Hebrew tannin appears in Canaanite myths from Ugarit, together with Leviathan, as the name of a primeval dragon-god who assisted Yam (Sea) in an elemental battle against Baal, the god of fertility. Fragments of this myth, in a transformed Israelite version, surface in several biblical poetic texts in which the forces of evil in this world are figuratively identified with Tannin (Dragon), the embodiment of the chaos that the Lord vanquished in primeval time. By emphasizing that “God created the great sea monsters” late in the cosmogonic process, the narrative at once strips them of divinity.48
The Hebrew term for “winged bird” refers to anything that flies, not solely birds49.
1:22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
The first blessing of the Bible.
1:24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.
Just as the earth brought forth plants on the third day so the earth brings forth the animals on the sixth day. In verse 25 the order in which the land animals appear is different (beasts of the earth, livestock, creeping things).
1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Why does God speak in the plural? It could be that God is speaking to the heavenly court of angels. In the Bible God alone makes the decisions in this court and the other members of the court are not counselors or co-creators50. At the very least it is a self-address by God. The “our” should refer to the same person as the “us.” In verse 27 “God created man in his own image.” God is the only subject of the verb and only God is the referent of the possessive (“our”). Man is created in God’s image, not the image of any other heavenly being. The verbs “make” and “create” have only God as their subject throughout this account, no one joins him in creation. Genesis 11:7-8 contains a similar scene where “us” is used but God is the only actor.
In this verse “man” refers to humanity. What does it mean for man to be made in the image of God? Humans share something with the divine that no other creature does, but exactly how humans are made in the image of God is a mystery. Both men and women are created in the image of God so it is unclear how a physical image of God could be meant. Despite having the image of God, humans are subordinate to God. There are three main views on this subject, which are not mutually exclusive: (1) the resemblance view states that some property of human nature resembles an aspect of God’s nature; (2) the representative view states that man represents God by ruling the world on God’s behalf; and (3) the relational view states that man is fully man when in relationship with God and the human community. A survey of other passages51 shows that at least some early writers held to the resemblance view. In the ANE rulers were said to be in the image of a god52. This verse mentions that humans are to rule over the animals so the representative view is also correct. Note that it is all humans, not just the king, who are God’s royal representatives on earth in Genesis.
1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them
The formula “of every kind” is not used of humans for there is only one human species.
1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Unlike in verse 22 when speaking to the animals, in this verse God can speak directly to the humans (God said to them)53. Reproduction is a blessing from God and is not dependent on fertility rites as was believed by others in the ANE. The verb translated as “subdue” means that humans are to forcefully bring the earth under control so that the untamed land serves them. However, humans are to respect the environment and not to kill for food54. The dominion over the other creatures implies that humans are the pinnacle of the created world. “There is one other aspect to the divine charge to man. Contrary to the common beliefs of the ancient world that the forces of nature are divinities that may hold the human race in thralldom, our text declares man to be a free agent who has the God-given power to control nature”55.
1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
There is no bloodshed. Both animals and humans are to eat plants. It is not until after the flood that humans are permitted to eat meat (Genesis 9:2-5). In the ANE one of the major functions of humans was to provide the gods with food, but in Genesis God provides humans with food56.
1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
In this verse God declares all of creation to be very good. Though not evident in the ESV translation, this day is called the sixth day whereas days 2-5 were called a X day57.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them
The host are the just created inhabitants of the land and sky, not the the heavenly host. This passage does not tell us when angels were created58.
2:2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done
There is no indication in the Hebrew that God did any work on the seventh day as some might think from the English translation (also note verse 1 says creation was finished)59. The reckoning of days and years is established by the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the fifth day. The reckoning of weeks is established by the order of divine activity in creation. The seven-day week and the seven-day cosmogonic tradition is unique to Israel60.
The Hebrew word for “work” (melaka) refers to skilled labor.
The Hebrew word shabath means to cease or stop, not to rest61. “The explicit association of the Sabbath with rest will come later, in the Ten Commandments”62. God has completed his work and has no more creating to do. Thus he has no need to rest and then start creating again.
In both Enuma elish and the Atrahasis Epic the gods rest after the creation of man. With man to do the menial work of the day-to-day maintenance of the earth, the gods are now free for less demanding administrative tasks in the world. In appreciation for release from this manual work, the gods promise to build Babylon and its temple for Marduk. The gods’ surrogate is now man, who is “charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease.” It is not difficult to see how different the Mesopotamian concept of rest for the divine is from the biblical concept.63
2:3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation
“The first use of the key biblical concept of holiness relates to time. This is in striking contrast to the Babylonian cosmology, which culminates in the erection of a temple to Marduk by the gods, thereby asserting the sanctification of space”64. God has already established his sovereignty over space so he now establishes his sovereignty over time. There is no closing formula that there was evening and morning on the seventh day.
The seven days of creation provide structure to the narrative. Each workday is ended with the refrain: “And there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day”65. The seventh day does not contain the refrain. The structure of the passage can be seen in this table:
Formless earth and darkness over the deep
(1) Separation of light and darkness
(4) Day and night populated with lights
(2) Separation of upper and lower waters
(5) Sky and waters populated with fish and birds
(3) Separation of land and seas and creation of plants
(6) Population of land with animals and humans
(7) God ceases creating
Note that days 1-3 involve separation and the creation of an habitable location and days 4-6 involve populating the locations created in the first three days. Day 4 populates the location created in day 1, day 5 populates the location created in day 2, and day 6 populates the location created in day 3.
CGLLTC: C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, 2006
FCT: Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah, 2001
HCBC: James L. Mays, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, 2000
JPSTCGen: Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 1989
NACGen1: Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26, 1996
NICOTGen1: Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 1990
NIVACGen: John H. Walton, Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary, 2001
NIVSB: Kenneth Barker, NIV Study Bible, 1995
NJBC: Raymond E. Brown, New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990
WBCGen1: Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15, 1987
12 Maccabees 7:28; Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11
2[NICOTGen1] 103-108; [CGLLTC] 50-55; [WBCGen1] 11-14
11[NICOTGen1] 110-111; [NACGen1] 133
16Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 60:19-20; Habakkuk 3:3-4; Zechariah 14:7; Revelation 22:5
22Genesis 17:5, 15; 2 Kings 23:34; 24:17; Daniel 1:7
24Genesis 19:33-34; Judges 6:38; 21:4
28[FCT] 9; Genesis 2:11-14; 2 Samuel 4:2
31[NACGen1] 150; Deuteronomy 28:12; Judges 5:4; 1 Kings 18:44-45; Ecclesiastes 11:3; Isaiah 5:6
362:19, 20, 23; 3:20; 4:17, 25, 26; 5:3, 29
501 Kings 22:19-22; Psalm 89:6-8; Isaiah 6:8; Job 1-2; Daniel 7:9-13; Luke 2:9-14; Revelation 4-5
51Genesis 5:1; 9:6; Wisdom of Solomon 2:23; Sirach 17:3; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:15-16; 3:10; James 3:9
61cf. Joshua 5:12; Job 32:1
651:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31