How to Understand Genesis 1:1?

Hello everyone!

I’m an Orthodox Christian, a former YEC, and have no position regarding the age of the earth. I seek to understand Genesis 1-11 the best I can to determine my position regarding the debate about the age of the earth. Currently, I’m still trying to understand Genesis 1… There’s a YEC argument I’ve come across and haven’t managed to find an answer to myself. Maybe you can help me?

Some theistic evolutionists argue Genesis 1:1 should be translated ‘‘When God began to create…’’, and is dependent on verse 3. However, it seems Genesis 1:1 is clearly paralleled to John 1:1, which is ‘‘In the beginning was the Word’’.

How do theistic evolutionists respond to this argument?

Thanks for helping!!! :slight_smile:

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The age of the earth is determined by measurements of physical realities, not by Scripture interpretation. Those measurements are not affected in any way by how we choose to render a Hebrew passage into English.

Hello friend!

I guess I’m having trouble following why “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is such a problem for those who are not YEC? I don’t think non-YEC positions require a different way of understanding the verse.

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As Christy alludes to, the verses do not address the nature of the mechanism and mechanics of creation, but rather the nature and work of God. John 1 reinforces that emphasis by putting Jesus into the picture as being behind all creation, and further revealing who God is, and what his relationship is to us and the rest of creation.

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Hi Eitan, welcome to the forum!

Here are some BioLogos resources that may assist:




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I read genesis 1:1 as just a introductory statement to how the events unfolded snd don’t believe it’s better later translated as on day one it was revealed. There is no reason to force that interpretation on it unless they are trying to sneak around the problem of the age of the world verses genealogies as being literal.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Seems pretty straight forward to me. The only things I see to elaborate upon are the following:

  1. This is not God as ruler commanding other beings to create the heavens and the earth. This is God doing it Himself because He is the one with the knowledge and ability to do this task according to what He seeks to achieve. Perhaps there are some routine tasks He gave to the angels to do. But He is the creator not the angels.
  2. God created what we see around us that we humans did not create. We did not create the earth or the sky. God did that. If we want to know what God created then all we have to do is look at it.
  3. From looking at what God created we see many things in our sciences about how it is all put together and how it all works. So God also had to create all the things which are required for earth and sky to be as it is. Cosmology and astrophysics has been studying the process by which it was done step by step over the last 13.8 billion years.
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I’m an evangelical Christian with leanings toward eastern orthodox theology. But I started with science and existentialism – YEC is and always was in the same category as the Flat Earth society for me – the raving of complete lunatics. Even though I found something of value in the Bible, I am more hostile to creationism that ever – seeing it as no more Biblical than it is rational or consistent with the objective evidence. The age of the earth is determined by science as 4.5 billion years. The Bible does not speak to such a question – ever.

Ah!!! so it is not just Genesis 1:1. That did seem a little too straightforward. The meaning of much of this (verses 2-11) is rather obscure. The only thing which I am completely sure is that a literal interpretation is utterly impossible. Add in the fact that the language did not have near enough words to describe much of what we know happened and for all we know this is describing the separation of bosons from fermions, the big bang, spontaneous symmetry breaking, the decay of the vacuum state to produce matter and energy, and the formation of planets and stars from whirlpools of cosmic gasses and dust.

We just don’t know what that stuff means and like much of the book of Revelation it is too easy to read whatever you want into it like clouds and inkblots.

Only Deists think God stopped creating and simply watches it all like a big clockwork mechanism.

Genesis is not a purely sequential narrative. It retells the story of creation several times with different emphasis. There is simply no warrant for treating Genesis 1:1 as a first act which is completed before anything else. The text just doesn’t read that way… people don’t always talk that way or write that way!

for example… a little creative writing here…

I woke up to a miserable rain and spent the day in a sulk. I went to work in darkness and came home in more darkness. Turning on the light of my classroom penetrated neither the gray weather nor the fog of my brain, no more than the promise of my girlfriend’s embrace after work. The sparkle in the eyes of my students helped a little, shining enough light in the gloom to see my way through the usual tedium. But, nothing was enough to dispel the dull blur of this day droning on like the static of a tv now off the air.

This is not a sequential narrative but a retelling of the same events over an over again from different perspectives.

What Genesis is not in any way shape or form is a science text explaining how God did it. There is simply no reason for God to communicate such a thing to man and certainly there is no expectation of God later on in the Bible (thinking of Job in particular) that He explained any such thing to us.

I see everything here but “We believe God because he said…”

Everyone here believes God. We just can tell where he’s being literal and where he’s not being literal.

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Because science says so.

Science has nothing to do with recognizing genesis 1-11 is mythological in nature. It’s wrote that way because God wanted it to be. Evolution could be disproven, and a whole new theory pops up and it still would not make genesis any more literal.

So it’s not about some new god science… it’s about basic reading comprehension. It’s about being able to see what literary techniques are in place.

Techniques or miracles? Do you believe in any miracles or prophecies in the bible? If so, where do you draw the line? I don’t see any breaks between Genesis 1 or 11 and the rest of the book, which is history, along with the other four books of the Torah.

Where do I draw the line? By the clearly defined use of genre. Of course I believe in the miracles and prophecies of the Bible.

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I think the question is about how TE’ers come up with “When God began…” and deal with the New Testament ex nihilo statements.

@Eitan - as I understand it, the theistic evolutionists (TE) who are pushing for “when God began” hold that early Genesis is very deeply related to other ancient near eastern (ANE) documents like the Enuma Elish, which starts with “When on high…” Since other ANE docs start with “when”, they assume the Hebrew really means to start with “when” and then assume Gen 1:1 should be seen as “when God began.” That’s how they get there. The New Testament, AFAICT, does not enter into their consideration on how to translate that. However I don’t recall seeing any TE’s attempt a connection between 1:1 and 1:3. Can you provide more on that?

I happen to agree with you that John 1:1 is clearly an intentional parallel and the Greek is not ambiguous. In addition other writers of the New Testament echo the traditional ex nihilo view of Gen 1:1. So clearly the Hebrews 2000 years ago held that Gen 1:1 did not mean “when God began”.

FWIW Biologos centers around “Evolutionary Creationist”, not TE (there are also those with other convictions). From what I’ve seen, the peak of the bell curve here would hold these points:

  1. They are generally fine with “In the beginning” for Gen 1:1.
  2. They do not believe it refers to the Big Bang.
  3. For Gen 1 - 11, they have a high regard for the scientific consensus and for the Bible, and are trying to also understand the early Bible in the light scientific consensus (if anyone is uncomfortable with that wording, please propose better).

The two primary alternatives to YEC are evolutionary creationism (as represented at Biologos), and Progressive Creationism (as represented at RTB - reasons.org).

Hope that helps!

Marty

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Thanks Eitan for posting.

I know that NIV says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”…
KJV " in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."
NASB – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” so also the ESV
NRSV – ““In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,”
The editor of the WBC commentary translated --” In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" and the editor of the NICOT on Genesis 1-17 translated it “In the beginning God created the universe.”
There is a footnote at the bottom of my Archaeological Study Bible (for Gen 1:1) explaining why days may not necessarily be the 24-hour phenomenon we know them to be now.
The rendition “When God began to create…” is an unusual one, I suppose. But I did find one essayist who links translations such as [his quote] "‘In the beginning when God created’ or ‘When God began to create’ to what that writer called “links between Genesis 1 and other ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies that picture a divine power acting upon … a preexisting chaos”. [see Genesis and Christian Theology p. 37].

And I suppose that would be one reason why “theistic evolutionists” and others use the rendition you cited. And as for John 1:1, some say it is part of a hymn from long ago. The phrase “in the beginning” simply affirms God’s primordial role— and that aspect is parallel to what is said in Genesis 1:1, no matter how else a scholar feels about the two texts…

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