On Creation Week’s Day 1, How Intensively did God Work?
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
The Bible teaches us that everything and everyone (except God Himself) was made by God, so He is called the “Creator”; that means that God made everything that is (including ourselves) out of nothing, by His command!
That is so powerful that we cannot fully understand that power to create something (or someone) out of nothing. The Bible teaches us that God did His creation work “in the beginning”, staring with the heavens and the earth on Day #1. Although doing this is impossible for us to do, or even to fully understand, it was quite easy for God to do!
Hebrew philology (i.e., word studies) demonstrate their value in the Bible’s first verse: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
The subject noun is “God,” translating the Hebrew text’s plural noun Elohîm. The action verb is “created,” translating the Hebrew text’s singular verb bara’. What a grammar teacher’s conundrum! A plural subject noun with a singular verb! Yet what better way to foreshadow the Bible’s Trinitarian theology of God’s being? This is clarified later in Scripture, of course, as the Great Commission illustrates, but the doctrine of God’s Tri-unity is actually introduced in Genesis 1:1. The universe’s Maker is plural, yet one.
Genesis 1:1 has more to say about God’s first action as Creator—informing us about what God’s action of creating was and what it was not.
Hebrew verbs usually appear in one of these seven basic forms: qal (simple active), niphâl (simple passive), piêl (intensive active), puâl (intensive passive), hiphîl (causative active), hophâl (causative passive), hithpaêl (active and passive combined—i.e., your action directly impacts yourself, like combing your own hair).
Genesis 1:1 uses a singular 3rd person masculine qal verb, bara’ (“He created”). So what does that tell us about God’s action on Day 1?
From God’s perspective, His action of creating (on Day 1 of Creation Week) was “simple”; it was not “intensive” work! Astoundingly, God did not work very hard to decree into existence, from nothing, all “the heavens and earth” (i.e., all of the physical matter-energy that now exists)! Also, notice that God’s work of creating was not merely “causative.” God then acted directly, not merely as a first cause instigator triggering a long series of dominoes. (Specifically, it was God the Son, i.e., Christ, Who was most directly involved in doing this creation work — see John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1.)
Furthermore, because the verb bara’ is a perfect verb, the action of creating is reported as completed—finished! That specific work of creation (i.e., creating physical matter-energy into being), that God did on Day 1, needed no further ex nihilo (out-of-nothing) creating.
And that was just the beginning! The next five days involved developmental use of Day 1’s creation, providing us with many more biblical word study opportunities in Genesis.