In the Beginning, God (Genesis 1:1)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 ESV

 

For a sentence containing only ten words, the first verse of the Bible contains possibly the deepest and richest meaning of any statement in human language. There is simply no more profound a way of beginning the written Word of God. It is my aim, therefore, that as we analyze the ramifications and implications of this verse we will be swept away by the enormity of God’s wonder and glory. The cavern of this verse is deep and mysterious, but ultimately it is breath-taking and worth the plunge into its depths.

IN THE BEGINNING

The opening clause of this verse is from whence Genesis receives its title, since genesis means beginnings. Thus, the narrative of the Bible opens at the very beginning of creation. This means that the scope of the Bible is unbelievably epic. We learn in composition class that every good story or paper must have a beginning, middle, and end; however, very few stories ever start at the very beginning of the universe and everything in it.

What exactly does this mean for the Bible? It means that Scripture is intricately intertwined with existence itself. The Bible is not simply sixty-six books of moral guidelines or fanciful stories; it is the very word of the eternal God, who transcends all of existence. This seemingly simple phrase ought to completely shape the magnitude of wonder with which we read Scripture.

GOD CREATED

Within the heart of this verse, God is firmly established as the sole subject and, therefore, the verse’s sole focus. God’s primacy in being mentioned serves to establish His superiority over every other subject that will be mentioned henceforth. This verse must serve as a reminder that God is the protagonist of the Bible and of everything else. Everything begins with God because God is the beginner, shaper, and goal of all things. It is interesting to note here that Moses does not open with a philosophical or scientific argument for the existence of God. He does not introduce God with a high work of apologetics. Instead, God is simply declared as fact; take it or leave it. The only concern of this verse, and Genesis as a whole, is who God is and what He has done. Obviously, our ability to discern the nature of God is fairly limited within the context of this individual verse; however, I believe that much more can be learned than most people realize from these ten words. First, we are told that the first act which began existence was God’s creating. In order for God to initiate creation in the beginning, God must have been present before the beginning. This means that God stands outside of all existence; He is eternally separate and unique from everything else that has existed, does exist, or will ever exist. God is unique. Simply put, all things in existence can be divided into two categories: created and not created. God is the only one in the not created category. This means that God is entirely unfamiliar to us; His nature is incomprehensible. There is nothing to which we can compare God for reference that would remotely do Him justice. If this thought is beginning to sound quite hopeless, then we are on the right track toward understanding something of God. The transcendence and incomprehensibility of God ought to make our quest to know God feel hopeless because it is only through that lens of hopelessness that we see the beauty of Scripture. How glorious that God would give us a written account of who He is so that we might be able to at least begin our understanding of Him! Yet the good news does not stop with the Scriptures either. Not only did God provide us with His written Word; He also sent us His embodied Word. Because of the miracle of the incarnation, God became a man and dwelt among us. Jesus Christ is the only one of whom the Father is able to say, “I am like Him.” Christ is the “exact imprint” of God’s nature and “the image of the invisible.”[1] In the bleak chasm of God’s incomprehensibility, Jesus Christ shines forth in the radiance of the Father, so that we might better know God through the mediation and display of His glory in Christ.

We must also note the word for God used in this verse: Elohim. This is one of the two primary names of God used in the Scripture; thus, it is important that we understand what is meant by it. Interestingly enough, Elohim is actually the plural form of the word El, which appears to be in direct contradiction of Christianity’s monotheism. However, Hebrew is one of the few languages that sometimes uses plural as a means of amplification. Therefore, Elohim, when used of God, emphasizes the complete, totality of God’s supremacy. Elohim declares that the one true God is far greater than all other false gods together. This name is meant to display the transcendence and majesty of God over all His creation. Elohim is beyond comprehension.

THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH

This phrase is a merism, a figure of speech which means much more than is explicitly stated. Ancient Hebrew had no designated word for universe, so they would simply refer to everything that existed as all that they knew to exist, which was the earth and the heavens. While the immediate meaning of heavens was most likely closer to our word “sky”, the phrase encompasses all of the cosmos as well. To be fair, English also has merisms. When we have thoroughly searched for something, we might say that we searched “high and low”. Of course, we don’t explicitly mean that we only searched in high and low places, but rather we search high, low, and everywhere in between. Similarly, God created the earth, heavens, and everything else that might exist. God created everything.

[1] Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15

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