Notice that there are two stories of creation. The first goes from 1:1 – 2:3. Notice that the first story is a liturgy or a poem. (It may be set out this way in your Bible.) Also notice that the two stories address God differently. The first story talks about “God” (in Hebrew, Elohim), while the second story talks about the “LORD God” (in Hebrew, Yahweh Elohim). These two stories and the two names gave rise to the documentary hypothesis – the idea that the final editor of Genesis and other books possibly drew upon other documents in writing the Bible. When this hypothesis was new, exploration of it constituted a substantial part of the Old Testament curriculum in seminaries. If you are interested in the differences scholars find in their points of view, look up Jahwist (or Yahwist) and Elohist on Wikipedia.
Since St. Augustine, most Western Christians have thought that God created the world out of nothing, ex nihilo. Indeed, there is some evidence that this was the settled view by the time of the writing of the New Testament. Yet a fair reading of Genesis 1:1-2 will raise questions: What does “formless and void” mean? In Hebrew it is tohu wabohu, which only occurs in two later biblical texts that allude to this one. By itself tohu means “futility.” What are “the waters” or “the face of the deep”?
If you call something formless doesn’t that mean there is something already there? Process Theologians interpret this to mean that some thing co-exists with God and that God creates by speaking and bringing order out of the chaos.
While I’m in the creation ex nihilo camp, I get that Genesis 1:1-2 raises questions. Still, I think we have God as creator, the fashioner of the world. We also have a statement about God’s great power.
Notice how God creates by speaking. Genesis 1 is strikingly different from other extra-Biblical, near-eastern creation stories. These talk about creation as a result of sexuality and birth. Or they say creation arose out of a violent uprising of the gods or as a subduing of female waters or sea monsters. Doubtless the ancient Hebrews ran up against such stories. But here God speaks; Creation is. And the creation is distinguished from God.
Notice the separations. God separates 1) light from dark, 2) waters from above and below, creating the vault, 3) terrestrial waters producing dry land and plants into their kind, 4) the lights in the heavens, 5) non-terrestrial fish and birds into their kinds, and 6) terrestrial animals into their kinds, and humans after the image of God. Is there a correlation between speech (which makes distinctions) and the separations?
This invites questions: How is there light before there is a sun? How are there plants before the sun? How are there days before there is a sun and a moon? Are the sun, moon, and stars intentionally downplayed to contrast with Egyptian sun worship (the worship of Aten) or the Babylonian worship of the heavens? Some Jewish thought believes that the author has arranged the days of creation by increasing freedom of movement, though to my mind birds arguably have more freedom of movement than I do.
Notice God’s judgment on creation. It is “good” and “very good.” This is an extremely important claim, worth considering. What does it means to say that something is good before God? Not every religion views creation as good. Some view it as flawed. Others view it as a Monism (I am thinking of Hinduism) where life is part of death and evil the flip side of good. The claim that creation is good helps us interpret unjust suffering as an aberration. It also prevents us from losing sight of the humanity of those who do evil.
God’s pronouncement that creation is good, suggests that God’s creation has value before God. The Greek Philosopher Protagoras claimed, “man is the measure of all things.” That is, we assign value to things in life and determine their goodness, often based on their utility to us. What does God’s determination of creation’s goodness say about God as judge? How might the understanding of God’s judgment affect how we understand the value of creation?
Why is there a second creation story in Chapter 2? How to they compliment one another? How do they differ? God created Adam from the adamah (dust, earth). This suggests that God uses secondary causes and points to how we receive life from God through the biosphere.
What does it mean to say that God planted a garden? Notice the garden’s provision and the human vocation. What does it mean about the human vocation? How does this (as well as our dustiness) support creation care?
The knowledge symbolized in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not limited to moral knowledge. The Hebrew terms are broader, more like good and bad. As in: pain, hunger and sickness are bad. That God seeks to prevent the man from forfeiting his simple, innocent happiness shows that the source of trouble is already at hand. We will have more to say about the tree later.
In the story we have the development of speech. How is the man’s speech like and different from God’s creative speech in Chapter One? How is the man’s aloneness not good? What does the man say when God brings the woman. How is there sameness within otherness? Did you notice that the man’s words are set apart in the text? The woman inspires poetry!