In the beginning…God. The first four words of the Bible sum up the rest of divine revelation. In the beginning, God created. In the end, God recreates. In the middle, God redeems and God saves. The Bible is a book about God. It is a book about how he created man who rebelled against him, and how God in his infinite grace and mercy sent his son to redeem and justify man so that they may be reconciled to him.
Much has been written about Genesis 1:1, and I have included excerpts from some better know commentaries below. In these first ten words of our English Bibles are many of the foundations of the Christian faith. Take note of the following:
- It presupposes the existence of God. Genesis 1:1 leaves no room for atheism or even agnosticism. We exist because an eternal and gracious God made us.
- It testifies to the doctrine of the trinity – one God in three distinct persons. The Hebrew word used for God (Elohim) is plural while the verb form is singular. Later in the book, God says “let us create man in our image.” The testimony is clear, there is one God manifested in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John 1:1 further tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The world was created by the power of the Father, through the Son and by the agency of the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Trinity were therefore vital to the process of creation.
- It tells us when God created the earth – in the beginning. The world is not eternal. Only God is eternal. Everything prior to creation was eternity past. There was no world, and therefore no time, before God created it.
- It tells us that the world was created out of nothing. God did not create the world out of preexisting material. There was no eternal matter prior to the creation that God formed into the heavens and the earth. God spoke the world into existence. He created the world “ex nihilo” – out of nothing. All the debate today over creationism and intelligent design versus Darwinism is silly. Romans 1:19-20 tells us “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” The evidence is clear that the world was created and designed and therefore had a creator and a designer.
So the Bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21). Everything in between in a demonstration of the love and grace of our Almighty Father.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown offer the following on the meaning of God in this verse:
“God – the name of the Supreme Being, signifying in Hebrew, “Strong,” “Mighty.” It is expressive of omnipotent power; and by its use here in the plural form, is obscurely taught at the opening of the Bible, a doctrine clearly revealed in other parts of it, namely, that though God is one, there is a plurality of persons in the Godhead – Father, Son, and Spirit, who were engaged in the creative work (Pro_8:27; Joh_1:3, Joh_1:10; Eph_3:9; Heb_1:2; Job_26:13).”
John Calvin writes on the heresy that taught that God created the world out of preexisting material,
“Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens, who had received only an obscure report of the creation, and who, according to custom, adulterated the truth of God with strange figments; but for Christian men to labor (as Steuchus does) in maintaining this gross error is absurd and intolerable.”
One of the things appreciate about Calvin is his willingness to “call out” the false teachers of this day. He certainly does not pull any punches when it comes to this fallacy.
Adam Clarke provides the following description of the God described in Genesis 1:1
“A general definition of this great First Cause, as far as human words dare attempt one, may be thus given: The eternal, independent, and self-existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence: he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, and most spiritual of all essences; infinitely benevolent, beneficent, true, and holy: the cause of all being, the upholder of all things; infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made: illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only to himself, because an infinite mind can be fully apprehended only by itself. In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived; and who, from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, right, and kind. Reader, such is the God of the Bible; but how widely different from the God of most human creeds and apprehensions!”
He also points to a Jewish rabbi in arguing that the use of the plural Elohim with a singular verb points to the Trinity in the very first verse of the Bible,
“Nor are the Christians singular in receiving this doctrine, and in deriving it from the first words of Divine revelation. An eminent Jewish rabbi, Simeon ben Joachi, in his comment on the sixth section of Leviticus, has these remarkable words: “Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other.” See Ainsworth. He must be strangely prejudiced indeed who cannot see that the doctrine of a Trinity, and of a Trinity in unity, is expressed in the above words.”
Albert Barnes addresses the limitation of science in looking at Genesis 1:1,
“This creating is the omnipotent act of giving existence to things which before had no existence. This is the first great mystery of things; as the end is the second. Natural science observes things as they are, when they have already laid hold of existence. It ascends into the past as far as observation will reach, and penetrates into the future as far as experience will guide. But it does not touch the beginning or the end. This first sentence of revelation, however, records the beginning. At the same time it involves the progressive development of what is begun, and so contains within its bosom the whole of what is revealed in the Book of God. It is thus historical of the beginning, and prophetical of the whole of time. It is, therefore, equivalent to all the rest of revelation taken together, which merely records the evolutions of one sphere of creation, and nearly and more nearly anticipates the end of present things.
This sentence assumes the being of God, and asserts the beginning of things. Hence, it intimates that the existence of God is more immediately patent to the reason of man than the creation of the universe. And this is agreeable to the philosophy of things, for the existence of God is a necessary and eternal truth, more and more self-evident to the intellect as it rises to maturity. But the beginning of things is, by its very nature, a contingent event, which once was not and then came to be contingent on the free will of the Eternal, and, therefore, not evident to reason itself, but made known to the understanding by testimony and the reality of things. This sentence is the testimony, and the actual world in us and around us is the reality. Faith takes account of the one, observation of the other.”
I particularly enjoyed the observation that “the existence of God is a necessary and eternal truth, more and more self-evident to the intellect as it rises to maturity.” Finally, Barnes looks at what Genesis 1:1 precludes:
“This simple sentence denies atheism, for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism, and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good and the other evil, for it confesses the one Eternal Creator. It denies materialism, for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism, for it assumes the existence of God before all things, and apart from them. It denies fatalism, for it involves the freedom of the Eternal Being.
It indicates the relative superiority, in point of magnitude, of the heavens to the earth, by giving the former the first place in the order of words. It is thus in accordance with the first elements of astronomical science.
It is therefore pregnant with physical and metaphysical, with ethical and theological instruction for the first man, for the predecessors and contemporaries of Moses, and for all the succeeding generations of mankind.”
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary he offers the following on how Christians should respond to this verse,
“The first verse of the Bible gives us a satisfying and useful account of the origin of the earth and the heavens. The faith of humble Christians understands this better than the fancy of the most learned men. From what we see of heaven and earth, we learn the power of the great Creator. And let our make and place as men, remind us of our duty as Christians, always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet. The Son of God, one with the Father, was with him when he made the world; nay, we are often told that the world was made by him, and nothing was made without him. Oh, what high thoughts should there be in our minds, of that great God whom we worship, and of that great Mediator in whose name we pray! And here, at the beginning of the sacred volume, we read of that Divine Spirit, whose work upon the heart of man is so often mentioned in other parts of the Bible.”
John Wesley also offers his poetic take on man’s place in this creation:
“Observe here. 1. The effect produced, The heaven and the earth – That is, the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe. But ’tis only the visible part of the creation that Moses designs to give an account of. Yet even in this there are secrets which cannot be fathomed, nor accounted for. But from what we see of heaven and earth, we may infer the eternal power and godhead of the great Creator. And let our make and place, as men, mind us of our duty, as Christians, which is always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet.”
Finally, I enjoyed Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on this verse so much that I have reproduced it in it’s entirety below:
“In these verses we have the work of creation in its epitome and in its embryo.
I. In its epitome, Gen_1:1, where we find, to our comfort, the first article of our creed, that God the Father Almighty is the Maker of heaven and earth, and as such we believe in him.
1. Observe, in this verse, four things: –
(1.) The effect produced – the heaven and the earth, that is, the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe, the world and all things therein, Act_17:24. The world is a great house, consisting of upper and lower stories, the structure stately and magnificent, uniform and convenient, and every room well and wisely furnished. It is the visible part of the creation that Moses here designs to account for; therefore he mentions not the creation of angels. But as the earth has not only its surface adorned with grass and flowers, but also its bowels enriched with metals and precious stones (which partake more of its solid nature and more valuable, though the creation of them is not mentioned here), so the heavens are not only beautified to our eye with glorious lamps which garnish its outside, of whose creation we here read, but they are within replenished with glorious beings, out of our sight, more celestial, and more surpassing them in worth and excellency than the gold or sapphires surpass the lilies of the field. In the visible world it is easy to observe, [1.] Great variety, several sorts of beings vastly differing in their nature and constitution from each other. Lord, how manifold are thy works, and all good! [2.] Great beauty. The azure sky and verdant earth are charming to the eye of the curious spectator, much more the ornaments of both. How transcendent then must the beauty of the Creator be! [3.] Great exactness and accuracy. To those that, with the help of microscopes, narrowly look into the works of nature, they appear far more fine than any of the works of art. [4.] Great power. It is not a lump of dead and inactive matter, but there is virtue, more or less, in every creature: the earth itself has a magnetic power. [5.] Great order, a mutual dependence of beings, an exact harmony of motions, and an admirable chain and connection of causes. [6.] Great mystery. There are phenomena in nature which cannot be solved, secrets which cannot be fathomed nor accounted for. But from what we see of heaven and earth we may easily enough infer the eternal power and Godhead of the great Creator, and may furnish ourselves with abundant matter for his praises. And let our make and place, as men, remind us of our duty as Christians, which is always to keep heaven in our eye and the earth under our feet.
(2.) The author and cause of this great work – God. The Hebrew word is Elohim, which bespeaks, [1.] The power of God the Creator. El signifies the strong God; and what less than almighty strength could bring all things out of nothing? [2.] The plurality of persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This plural name of God, in Hebrew, which speaks of him as many though he is one, was to the Gentiles perhaps a savour of death unto death, hardening them in their idolatry; but it is to us a savour of life unto life, confirming our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which, though but darkly intimated in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New. The Son of God, the eternal Word and Wisdom of the Father, was with him when he made the world (Pro_8:30), nay, we are often told that the world was made by him, and nothing made without him, Joh_1:3, Joh_1:10; Eph_3:9; Col_1:16; Heb_1:2. O what high thoughts should this form in our minds of that great God whom we draw nigh to in religious worship, and that great Mediator in whose name we draw nigh!
(3.) The manner in which this work was effected: God created it, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any pre-existent matter out of which the world was produced. The fish and fowl were indeed produced out of the waters and the beasts and man out of the earth; but that earth and those waters were made out of nothing. By the ordinary power of nature, it is impossible that any thing should be made out of nothing; no artificer can work, unless he has something to work on. But by the almighty power of God it is not only possible that something should be made of nothing (the God of nature is not subject to the laws of nature), but in the creation it is impossible it should be otherwise, for nothing is more injurious to the honour of the Eternal Mind than the supposition of eternal matter. Thus the excellency of the power is of God and all the glory is to him.
(4.) When this work was produced: In the beginning, that is, in the beginning of time, when that clock was first set a going: time began with the production of those beings that are measured by time. Before the beginning of time there was none but that Infinite Being that inhabits eternity. Should we ask why God made the world no sooner, we should but darken counsel by words without knowledge; for how could there be sooner or later in eternity? And he did make it in the beginning of time, according to his eternal counsels before all time. The Jewish Rabbies have a saying, that there were seven things which God created before the world, by which they only mean to express the excellency of these things: – The law, repentance, paradise, hell, the throne of glory, the house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah. But to us it is enough to say, In the beginning was the Word, Joh_1:1.
2. Let us learn hence, (1.) That atheism is folly, and atheists are the greatest fools in nature; for they see there is a world that could not make itself, and yet they will not own there is a God that made it. Doubtless, they are without excuse, but the god of this world has blinded their minds. (2.) That God is sovereign Lord of all by an incontestable right. If he is the Creator, no doubt he is the owner and possessor of heaven and earth. (3.) That with God all things are possible, and therefore happy are the people that have him for their God, and whose help and hope stand in his name, Psa_121:2; Psa_124:8. (4.) That the God we serve is worthy of, and yet is exalted far above, all blessing and praise, Neh_9:5, Neh_9:6. If he made the world, he needs not our services, nor can be benefite d by them (Act_17:24, Act_17:25), and yet he justly requires them, and deserves our praise, Rev_4:11. If all is of him, all must be to him.”