Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chapter Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a (P). The Creation Narrative
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.1–5. The Beginning of all Things, and the First Creation Day
1. In the beginning] B’rêshîth: LXX ἐν ἀρχῇ: Lat. in principio. This opening word expresses the idea of the earliest time imaginable. It contains no allusion to any philosophical conception of “eternity.” The language used in the account of Creation is neither that of abstract speculation nor of exact science, but of simple, concrete, and unscientific narrative.
The opening words of John’s Gospel (ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, Genesis 1:1) are based upon this clause. But, whereas St John refers to the Word’s eternal pre-existence before time, the Hebrew writer simply speaks of “the beginning” of the universe as the historic origin of time and space.
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Genesis is called “B’rêshîth,” deriving its title from this first word.
God] Elohim: LXX ὁ Θεός: Lat. Deus. See Introduction on “The Names of God.” The narrative begins with a statement assuming the Existence of the Deity. It is not a matter for discussion, argument, or doubt. The Israelite Cosmogony differs in this respect from that of the Babylonians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, &c. The Cosmogonies of the ancients were wont to be preceded by Theogonies. The existence and nativities of the creating divinities were accounted for in mythologies which were often highly complicated, and not seldom grotesque. The Hebrew narrator, by beginning with the Creation, emphasizes his entire freedom from, and exclusion of, polytheistic thought. If Polytheism had existed in the earliest Hebrew times, it had been abandoned in the growing light of the Israelite religion. “God” is infinite; He was before all time: “In the beginning God created.” Upon the subject of the Divine Existence prior to “the beginning” the writer does not presume to speculate. That Israelite imagination did not wholly avoid the subject, we know from Job 28:25-28, Proverbs 8:22-30, Wis 9:9, Sir 24:9.
Concerning the Israelite conception of God (Elohim), we learn (1) from the present verse, that He (i) is a Person, and (ii) exists from all eternity; (2) from the whole passage, Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a, that He is (i) supreme in power, and (ii) perfect in wisdom and goodness. The attribute of power is shewn in creative omnipotence; that of wisdom in the orderly sequence of creation; that of goodness in the benevolent purpose which directed its successive phases.
created] The word so rendered (bârâ, LXX ἐποίησεν, Lat. creavit) is used especially of the acts of God, in doing, or calling into existence, something new or marvellous: cf. Exodus 34:10, “I will do marvels such as have not been wrought (Heb. created) in all the earth”: Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart.” In the present section it occurs again in connexion with (1) the creation of living organisms (Genesis 1:21); (2) the creation of man (Genesis 1:27); (3) the creation of the whole universe (Genesis 2:3-4). It is used in Psalm 148:5, “He commanded, and they were created,” where the reference is to this section.
A different word, “made” (‘âsâh), is used in connexion with the “firmament” (Genesis 1:7), the heavenly bodies (Genesis 1:16), the terrestrial animals (Genesis 1:25).
It is, however, a mistake to suppose that the word bârâ necessarily means “to create out of nothing.”
the heaven and the earth] These words express the Hebrew conception of the created universe. They do not denote, as has of late been suggested, “matter” in the mass, or in the rough. They embrace sky, earth, and ocean: cf. Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22, Genesis 24:3; Deuteronomy 3:24.
Attention should be called to an alternative rendering of this verse, preferred by many eminent commentators. It turns upon the grammatical point that the first word of the verse, “B’rêshîth,” means literally “In beginning,” not “In the beginning,” which would be “Bârêshîth.” Consequently, it is contended that “B’rêshîth,” being grammatically in “the construct state,” should be translated “In the beginning of,” or “In the beginning when”; and not, as if in “the absolute state,” “In the beginning.” If this contention, i.e. that b’rêshîth is in the construct state, be correct, Genesis 1:1 will be the protasis; Genesis 1:2 will be a parenthesis; Genesis 1:3 will be the apodosis: “In the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth (now the earth was waste, &c.… upon the face of the waters), then God said, ‘Let there be light.’ ”
In comparison with our familiar translation (in both R.V. and A.V.) the alternative rendering seems to present the serious disadvantage of opening the book with a long, cumbrous, and involved sentence. The reply, that the second creation narrative (Genesis 2:4-7) opens with a similarly long sentence, hardly meets the objection. The opening words of the whole book can hardly be compared with the opening words of a subsequent section.
The simplicity and dignity of the short opening sentence in the familiar translation impress themselves upon every reader. The author of the Fourth Gospel was evidently conscious of it.
The force of the grammatical objection is weakened by the parallel case of the anarthrous use of b’rêshîth in Isaiah 46:10. It is doubtful whether rêshîth is found with the article. In the present instance, it may be pleaded that the absence of the article lends a significant indefiniteness. The rendering of the LXX, in ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν, which supports the anarthrous b’rêshîth (ἐν ἀρχῇ, not ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ), was evidently the traditional rendering of the Jews in at least the third century b.c. The rendering of the Targum of Onkelos, “In the first times” (b’qadmin), supports it in the second century a.d.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.2. And the earth, &c.] Notice, in the present verse, (1) that “darkness” exists which God is not said to have made: (2) that “waters” exist before the formation of the seas: (3) that “the spirit of God” is mentioned, without explanation of its nature or origin, as “brooding upon the face of the waters.” The whole picture is vague and obscure, because the touches, by which it is conveyed, are left unexplained. The old monstrous and grotesque figures with which primitive Semitic, and possibly primitive Hebrew, imagination sought to fill up the void of the unimaginable past, have been left out. The gap which they filled is not wholly supplied. The description is brief and condensed. But, even making allowance for the brevity of the narrative, we are conscious of the presence of features in it, which represent the dim and cancelled outlines of an earlier mythological story. The thought of the Israelite reader is elevated to a higher religious plane in this simple and stately account.
the earth] i.e. the materials out of which the universe is formed. We are not told what the origin of these materials was, or whether God had created them. God is not here spoken of as creating the universe out of nothing, but rather as creating it out of a watery chaos: cf. Wis 11:18. That which is affirmed in Hebrews 11:3, i.e. that God did not make “that which is seen out of things which do appear,” is not asserted in this verse, though it is implied in the general representation of God’s omnipotence and His solitary personal action.
was] The simplest description of what “existed” before the first day of Creation. To translate “became,” or “came into being,” in order to import into the verse an allusion to the nebular hypothesis for the origin of the solar system, is an expedient not to be entertained by any scholarly interpreter. It has, however, found favour in some quarters. Apologists have been known to appeal to this verse as demonstrating that the Bible contains anticipations of the latest discoveries in Natural Science, as if the Hebrew auxiliary denoted the process of gradual evolution out of nebulous gas.
The theory, however, would never have been thought of except for the well-meaning, but mistaken, purpose of defending the honour of Holy Scripture on the supposition that it must contain perfection of instruction upon all matters of scientific knowledge.
It is sufficient to remind the reader that the ancients were entirely ignorant of the Copernican theory of the solar system; and, ex hypothesi, could not have comprehended Laplace’s nebular theory.
It violates every canon of interpretation to assume that simple words, like “earth,” “darkness,” “water,” &c., were intended to convey to the Israelite reader not the meanings which the Hebrew equivalents everywhere else conveyed, but those which could only be understood after the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century had transformed men’s conception of the universe.
Equally arbitrary is the explanation of this verse, that it is intended to summarize the period, or periods, of catastrophe which, according to some writers, preceded the present geological condition of our planet. Geology is a modern science. The view which regarded the geological history of the globe as a succession of gigantic catastrophes is now very generally abandoned. The theory, that the earth has reached its present condition through gradual changes which have taken place during an enormous span of time (the uniformitarian theory), has now received the general adherence of geologists. (Cf. Sir Arch. Geikie, Art. “Geology,” Encyc. Brit.)
On the other hand, the Hebrew conception of the Creation in this chapter is in agreement with a fundamental principle of scientific thought. It recognizes in Nature an orderly progress from the simple into the complex, from the lower into the higher. Evolution, in the modern acceptance of the word, would have been unintelligible. But the ideas of order and progress, which it endorses and illustrates, are dominant in the present description. See Special Note, pp. 45 f.
waste and void] A.V. “without form and void.” The Heb. tôhû va-bhôhû is untranslateable. The LXX, ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, “invisible and unformed,” fails to give the meaning. The Latin, inanis et vacua, is closer to the original. The alliteration of the Heb. words cannot be reproduced in English: “void and vacancy” would partially represent the sense and the sound.
tôhû in Isaiah 45:18, where there is a reference to the Creation Narrative, seems to denote “waste” or “vacancy”; while bôhû = “emptiness,” “void,” occurs elsewhere only in Isaiah 34:11, Jeremiah 4:23, with a reference to the present passage. Conceivably, the words may contain some similarity to primitive names, which had become obsolete, but which had been used to personify the conditions of chaos out of which the universe was formed. We may, at least, in connexion with this suggestion, compare the Phoenician Βαύυ = Night, the Mother of Chaos, and the Gnostic technical terms Βύθος and Χαός, designating primaeval matter.
darkness] The existence of “darkness” is here assumed. It is not said to have been created. “Light,” not “darkness,” has its origin in the creative act of God.
For another conception, cf. Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness.”
the deep] Heb. t’hôm, LXX ἀβύσσου, Lat. abyssi. This word is generally used in the O.T. for the “Ocean,” which, according to Hebrew ideas, both encircled the world, and occupied the vast hollows beneath the earth: cf. Genesis 49:25. It is used like a proper name, without the article; and is very probably Babylonian in origin. In the present verse it denotes the chaotic watery waste destined on the Second Day to be confined within certain definite limits. It is conceivable that in primitive Hebrew mythology this t’hôm, or “abyss,” fulfilled the same part as the somewhat similar Babylonian Tiamtu, or Tiamath, “the Goddess of the Great Deep,” with a dragon’s body, whose destruction preceded the creative deeds of the Babylonian Supreme God, Marduk, or Merodach. Marduk slew the dragon, clave its body in two parts, and made the heaven of one portion, and the earth of the other. See Appendix A.
The Hebrew notion that, before the Creation, the universe was enveloped in the waters of the great deep is possibly referred to in Psalm 104:6, “Thou coveredst it [the earth] with the deep as with a vesture,” cf. Psalm 33:7.
the spirit of God] Nothing could more effectually distinguish the Hebrew Narrative of the Creation from the representations of primitive mythology than the use of this simple and lofty expression for the mysterious, unseen, and irresistible presence and operation of the Divine Being. It is the “breath” of God which alone imparts light to darkness and the principle of life to inert matter.
The student should be warned against identifying this expression with the Holy Spirit in the Christian doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. We must not look for the distinctive teaching of the Christian Revelation in the pages of the O.T.
The word for “wind,” Heb. ruaḥ, Gr. πνεῦμα, Lat. spiritus, was accepted as the most suitable term to express the invisible agency of God. In consequence, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether the word is used literally in its meaning of “wind” or “breath,” or metaphorically in its meaning of “spirit” as the symbol of the invisible operation and influence of the Almighty. An instance of this ambiguity occurs in our Lord’s words in John 3:8, “The wind (πνεῦμα) bloweth (marg. ‘The Spirit breatheth’) where it listeth, &c.… so is every one that is born of the Spirit (πνεῦμα).” Similarly, whereas the Targum of Onkelos probably rendered our clause by “wind from the Lord blew upon the face of the waters,” the Targum of Palestine renders “the Spirit of mercies from the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters.”
moved upon the face of the waters] The rendering of the margin, was brooding upon, furnishes the picture of a bird spreading its wings over its nest; it also reproduces the meaning of the participle of the Hebrew verb, which implies continuousness in the action. For the use of the same unusual Hebrew word, cf. Deuteronomy 32:11. “As an eagle that stirreth up her nest, That fluttereth over her young, He spread abroad his wings, He took them, He bare them on his pinions.”
By the selection of this word the writer conveys the thought that the continuous, fostering care of the Almighty was given to the welter of primaeval chaos no less than to the orderly successive phenomena of the universe.
Milton employs this metaphor in two well-known passages.
Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant …
—Par. Lost, i. 19.
… Matter unformed and void. Darkness profound
Covered the Abyss; but on the watery calm
His brooding wings the Spirit of God outspread,
And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth,
Throughout the fluid mass.…
It may, indeed, be questioned whether, if the word is intended to denote the action of a bird, it should not be rendered “was fluttering,” or “was hovering,” rather than “was brooding.” Motion seems to be implied: and the simile is not so much that of a bird sitting upon its nest as that of a bird hovering with outstretched wings over the young ones in the nest. The choice of the word, with its allusion to bird life, has been thought to contain an intentional reference to primitive mythologies, e.g. Phoenician, Egyptian, according to which the universe was hatched by a female deity out of the primaeval egg of Chaos.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.3. The First Day
3. And God said] Observe here that the spoken Word is the only means employed throughout the six days’ Creation, cf. Psalm 33:6; Psalm 33:9, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.… For he spake, and it was done: he commanded, and it stood fast.” Creation by a word combines the idea of perfect facility with that of absolute power.
It is only through the Revelation of the N.T. that we learn to identify the work of Creation with the operation of the Personal Word (John 1:3): “All things were made through him (ὁ Λόγος); and without him was not anything made that hath been made,” cf. Colossians 1:16, “For in him [the Son] were all things created … all things have been created through him, and unto him.” Hebrews 1:2, “through whom [his Son] also he made the worlds.”
Let there be light] This command, in the Hebrew, consists of two short words, y’hi ’ôr. Light is the first created thing, that upon which depends all life and growth known to us on earth.
For “light” as the symbol of the Divine presence in the Revelation of the N.T., cf. John 1:4, “in him was life; and the life was the light of men,” cf. Genesis 1:9, and Genesis 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”
and there was light] Literally, “and light came into existence.” Apparently the primitive conception of the Hebrews was that light and darkness were separate things, incomprehensible indeed, but independent of the sun, cf. Job 26:10; Job 38:19, “where is the way to the dwelling of light, and as for darkness, where is the place thereof?” The unscientific notions of the Israelite have received in regard to light an unexpected illustration from modern discovery; but we must be careful not to suppose that there is any resemblance between the Hebrew picture of the creation of light, and modern theories respecting light and the ether of infinite space. The Hebrew view of the universe was (cf. Genesis 1:6-8) extremely limited; the modern scientific view of the universe is practically infinite in its capacity for development, and is continually being enlarged. There is little room for comparison between them.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.4. And God … good] This phrase is repeated (Genesis 1:10; Genesis 1:12; Genesis 1:18; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:25, and in slightly amplified form, Genesis 1:31) at each successive creative act, except on the second day (Genesis 1:8, where see note). The purpose of this sentence is to express (1) that the phenomena of the natural world, in their respective provinces, fulfil the will of the Creator, (2) that what is in accordance with His will is “good” in His sight.
and God divided … darkness] By this simple and concrete expression it is implied, that God assigned their own places to “light” and “darkness” respectively, and that, before the moment of separation, the light had been confused and entangled in the darkness. The two elements were now divided, and apportioned to different dwelling places, cf. Job 38:19 quoted above.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.5. And God called …] That God should give names to things is to our minds a strange and almost unintelligible thought. To the Hebrews, on the contrary, it seemed a natural feature of the story. To them the Hebrew language was that in which the Divine Will was expressed; and, to their minds, the Hebrew name and the thing which it designated had been rendered inseparable by Divine Decree on the day of its creation.
Observe that the names “Day” and “Night” are given to “light” and “darkness,” although the heavenly bodies are not made until the fourth day.
and there was …] The “day” with the Hebrews began in the evening. It was reckoned from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. The Israelite writer, therefore, in speaking of the days of Creation, describes them as ordinary days with their succession of evening and morning. There is no need to suppose, as some have done, that the “evening” in this verse refers to the pre-existent darkness of Genesis 1:2, and that “morning” denotes the period of light before the creative work of the second day. In the mention of the days, the Hebrew story of Creation is perfectly simple and natural. With childlike faith, it told how the Creator completed His work in a time corresponding to six earthly days, each consisting of evening and morning. The hallowing of the seventh day, in chap. Genesis 2:2-3, presupposes the literal character of the previous six days.
Suggestions have frequently been made in the course of the last half century, that each of the six days is to be understood as a period of indefinite duration. But it is important to remember that the facts, with which modern science has familiarized us, respecting the antiquity of the earth, as shewn by geology, and our solar system, as shewn by astronomy, were wholly unknown until quite recent times. We must be careful, therefore, not to read back such notions into the minds of the writer and of those for whom he wrote this chapter. The assumption that the inspired record must be literally accurate has led to much misinterpretation of Scripture as well as to great mental confusion and religious distress.
The difficulties, which have been felt with regard to the mention of “days,” have arisen from the natural wish to reconcile the plain and childlike language of ancient unscientific Semitic story, which accounted for the origin of the world, with the abstruse and dazzling discoveries of modern Physical Science. The two must be kept absolutely distinct.
one day] So the Hebrew, not “the first day”; but “one day,” LXX ἡμέρα μία, Lat. dies unus.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.6–8. The Firmament of the Heaven
6. Let there be … waters] The work of the “second day” is the creation of the so-called “firmament” of heaven. The Hebrews had no conception of an infinite ethereal space. The vault of heaven was to them a solid arched, or vaulted, structure, resting upon the pillars of the earth (Job 26:11). On the top of this dome were the reservoirs of “the waters above the heaven,” which supplied the rain and the dew. Beneath the earth were other reservoirs of waters, which were the sources of the seas, lakes, rivers and springs. After the creation of light the next creative act was, according to the Hebrew cosmogony, the division of the primaeval watery abyss, by means of a solid partition which is here denoted by the word rendered “firmament.” The waters are above it and below it.
a firmament] This word reproduces the Lat. firmamentum; LXX στερέωμα. The Hebrew râqîa denotes (see Heb. Lex.) “extended surface, (solid) expanse” (as if beaten out; cf. Job 37:18). For the verb raq‘a=beat, or spread, out, cf. Exodus 39:3, Numbers 17:4, Jeremiah 10:4, Ezekiel 1:22, “and over the head of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament … stretched forth over their heads above.” Compare Job 37:18, “canst thou with him spread out (tarqi‘a) the sky which is strong as a molten mirror?” See Psalm 19:1; Psalm 150:1, Daniel 12:3, where “firmament” = sky.
A diagram representing the Semitic conception of the Universe.
From Dr Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, by kind permission of Messrs T. & T. Clark.
For the solidity of the heaven according to this conception, cf. Amos 9:6, “it is he that buildeth his chambers in the heaven, and hath founded his vault upon the earth.” The fall of rain was regarded as the act of God in opening the sluices of heaven, cf. Genesis 7:11, 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:19, Psalm 78:23; Psalm 148:4, “ye waters that be above the heavens.”
The LXX adds at the end of this verse, “and it was so.” This formula, which appears in Genesis 1:11; Genesis 1:15; Genesis 1:24, in each case after the words of Divine fiat, seems more suitable here than at the close of Genesis 1:7, as in the Hebrew text.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.7. and it was so] This formula is here out of place. See previous note.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.8. God called the firmament Heaven] It is clear therefore that what the Hebrews meant by “Heaven,” was neither the clouds and mist, nor the empty space of the sky. It was a solid arch, to which, as we shall see in Genesis 1:14, the luminaries of the sky could be attached.
At the close of the description of the work on the other days, we find the formula “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10; Genesis 1:12; Genesis 1:18; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:25; Genesis 1:31). The omission of it here, at the close of the second day, is probably due to textual error.
LXX adds after the word “Heaven,” “and God saw that it was good.” It is more probable that the words have fallen out accidentally from the Hebrew text, than that the formula was intentionally omitted because, “the waters under the firmament” not having yet received their place, the Divine work upon the waters of the deep was regarded as still incomplete.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.9–13. The Third Day—Two Creative Acts. (1) The Separation of Sea and Earth (Genesis 1:9-10). (2) The Creation of the Vegetable World (Genesis 1:11-13)
9. Let the waters … appear] In this verse the dry land is rendered visible by the removal of the waters, that were under the Heaven, into their special place. The account reads as if the Earth had existed previously, but had been submerged in the water. It is not stated that God made the earth at this juncture; but only that He now caused it to become visible. The description of the formation of the earth, like other details of the old Hebrew cosmogony, has been omitted either for the sake of brevity, or in order to free the account from materials which were out of harmony with its general religious teaching.
unto one place] According to the Hebrew conception the Earth was supposed to have a flat surface, surrounded on all sides by the ocean; while the ocean was connected by subterranean channels with vast reservoirs of water that lay under the earth and fed the springs and rivers. Cf. Psalm 24:2, “for he hath founded it (the world) upon the seas, and established it upon the floods”; Psalm 139:9, “if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.” In the story of the Flood we read that “all the fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11 P) were broken up.
Instead of “place,” the LXX reads “gathering,” συναγωγήν, the word which is reproduced in the familiar term “synagogue.” It has been suggested that this may very possibly represent the original reading; and that, at any rate, the less usual word מִקְוֶה, miqveh = “gathering,” was more likely to be altered in transcription into the common word מָקוֹם, maqom = “place,” than vice versa. On the other hand, the word מִקְוֶה, miqveh, occurs in the following verse (Genesis 1:10), “the gathering together of the waters” (τὰ συστέματα τῶν ὑδάτων), in a slightly different sense, and a copyist may have introduced the word here by accident and given rise to the LXX rendering.
the dry land] That is, the surface, or crust, as it would now be called, of the earth, consisting of soil, sand, and rock. Christian tradition, until the beginning of the 19th or the end of the 18th century, was satisfied that the Hebrew narrative, attributing the origin of the earth’s crust to the work of a single day, adequately met the requirements of terrestrial phenomena, and did justice to the conception of Divine omnipotence. The rise of the science of Geology, in the last century and a half, has totally transformed educated opinion. It is recognized that the Hebrew cosmogony is devoid of scientific value (see p. 4). Geologists are agreed that the cooling process, by which the surface of the glowing and molten body of our planet came to be sufficiently solidified to support the weight of vast seas, must have extended over long ages to be reckoned by millions and millions of years. The subsequent geological ages, Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, Cainozoic, and Quaternary, which account for the gradual formation of the rocks as we know them, have been demonstrated to have covered a similarly stupendous length of time. The thicknesses of the successive geological strata furnish the means of estimating the relative durations of the periods. The infinite tracts of time and space, which modern science has in an increasing degree revealed to be in relation to one supreme and all embracing harmony, testify to the omnipotence of the Divine Will and Wisdom even more impressively than did the brief and intermittent acts of Creative Power, which in the legends of the ancient world accounted for the origin of earth and sea and stars.
The LXX adds at the end of the verse, “And the water that was under the heaven was gathered together into their gatherings (συναγωγὰς αὐτῶν), and the dry land appeared,” which looks like a gloss. But αὐτῶν implies a Heb. original (i.e. the plural form הַמַּיִם, “the waters,” not the sing. τὸ ὕδωρ).
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.11. Let the earth … grass] The creation of the vegetable world follows naturally and logically upon the emergence of the earth out of the waters. The most common and beautiful thing in nature, in the East, is the instantaneous appearance of fresh green blade and shoot, after the rain has fallen upon some parched and apparently lifeless soil. This phenomenon suitably marks the commencement of organic life in the Hebrew cosmogony.
It is doubtful whether we should distinguish in this verse three, or two, types of vegetation. Assuming that the former is to be preferred, we may distinguish (1) the grasses, (2) the herbs, (3) the trees. According to another view, the main class of vegetation (“grass”) is described under two heads, (1) the herbs, (2) the fruit-trees.
This classification of the vegetable world into three (or two) orders marks the beginnings of what we call botany. The “herb” and the “fruit-tree” are described in popular language, according to the mode of their propagation by seed or fruit.
after its kind] The word is collective, and the phrase means according to their various species. Cf. Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:25; Genesis 6:20 (P).
We should notice the emphasis that is here laid upon the fact that both the main orders of the vegetable kingdom and their subdivisions have their origin in the Divine command. The food of the Oriental is almost entirely vegetable.
And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the third day.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:14. Let there be lights] The word rendered “lights” (LXX φωστῆρες: Lat. luminaria) denotes a thing, or body, carrying light; cf. Psalm 74:16, “The day is thine, the night also is thine: Thou hast prepared the light (Heb. luminary) and the sun”; Ezekiel 32:8, “All the bright lights of heaven.”
It has seemed strange to some that the creation of the heavenly bodies should follow after that of the vegetable world, whose life, according to our notions, is dependent on the light of the sun. But, beside the artificial arrangement (according to which the creation of “the lights” of the sky on the fourth day corresponds to the creation of “the light” on the first day), it is probable that, in the ascending scale from vegetable organisms to animal life, the “lights,” i.e. the sun, moon, and stars, with their mysterious movements and changing, yet ordered, paths in the sky, seemed to be endowed with a vital activity, which, if inferior to that of the animals, yet was far surpassing that of the plants.
Described in terms of astronomy, the account here given of the origin and functions of the heavenly bodies is, what is called, “geocentric,” that is, it supposes the earth to be the centre of the system. It conceives the sun, moon and stars to be much smaller bodies of varied light-giving capacity, formed for purposes of use to the dwellers upon earth, and attached to the roof of heaven at no very great altitude above the flat earth.
Primitive and childlike will this Hebrew view seem now to us who inherit the privilege of the continually advancing discoveries of astronomical science since the days of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. But we shall do well to recollect, that the statement in these verses respecting the origin, nature, and function of the heavenly bodies, stands on an immensely higher level of reasonable and dignified intelligence, than the notions of other peoples in the ancient world, who identified the heavenly bodies with gods, or semi-divine beings, exercising a benevolent or malevolent potency over the affairs of men and women, countries, and nations. The Hebrew account is simple almost to baldness, but it is an account which harmonizes with the fear and worship of the one God of Israel. There is neither idolatry nor superstition in it. It gives no loophole for the follies or fears of astrology, which even down to modern times has been known to enslave the reason of Christian minds.
God is described as calling into existence the heavenly bodies for three distinct purposes: (1) to divide between day and night; (2) to determine periods of time, days, months, years, seasons, festivals, &c.; (3) to give light upon earth, providing by day for the growth, health, and strength of living organisms, and by night for the guidance of the wayfarer and the mariner.
for signs, and for seasons] Literally, “for signs and for fixed times.”
The seasons of the year were indicated by the position of the sun, moon, and stars; the “signs” probably have special reference to the constellations, and especially to what are called “the constellations of the Zodiac”—a knowledge of which was from a very early time possessed by the Babylonians. Comets, eclipses, shooting-stars, &c. would also be included among the “signs” of the sky.
The “fixed times” probably denote the periods of the year for agricultural and rural occupations, together with their festivals. Days of festivals were determined by particular moons, or by the rising of particular stars. Cf. Job 38:32, “Canst thou lead forth the Mazzaroth (signs of the Zodiac) in their season?”
14–19. Fourth Day. The Creation of the Heavenly Bodies
Observe that the creation of the “lights” in the heaven on the fourth day corresponds to the creation of “light” on the first day. If we divide the six days into two groups of three, there are in each group four creative acts, and at the head of each group is the creation of light in two different forms, (1) elemental, (2) sidereal.
And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.16. And God made, &c.] The work of creation on the fourth day is twofold. In Genesis 1:16 God is said to make the sun, the moon, and the stars; in Genesis 1:17 He is said to set them in their place.
It is noticeable that, although the “greater” and the “lesser lights” are here mentioned, the names of “sun” and “moon” are omitted: possibly in order to avoid reference by name to heavenly bodies whose worship was a source of idolatrous superstition, from the peril of which Israel was not free.
to rule] This expression assigns to the sun and moon a kind of quasi-personal dominion over the realms of day and night. Cf. Job 38:33, “Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?” Possibly the expression “rule” may be a survival of an earlier stage in the Hebrew cosmogony, in which the sun and moon received some kind of personification. At least, the word is noticeable in a context singularly tree from metaphor.
he made the stars also] A translation must fail to do justice to, the abruptness of the original, which literally runs, “and the stars.” The brevity of this clause, together with the absence of any further definition of the function of “the stars” as distinguished from “the greater lights,” is very noteworthy. It may possibly indicate a necessary abbreviation, in order to remove some older features of the cosmogony which conflicted with the pure monotheism of Israel.
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,17. And God set them] Having made the heavenly bodies (as in Genesis 1:16) God is now said to “set,” that is, to place (LXX ἔθετο, Lat. posuit), them in “the firmament of heaven.” They are located in the firm structure which stood as a dome, or convex roof, over the surface of the earth; see note Genesis 1:6; cf. Pliny ii. 106, sidera coelo adfixa. No mention is here added of the movements of the heavenly bodies; nor is any explanation given, in this condensed narrative, of the way in which the luminaries placed in the firmament were nevertheless apparently possessed with mysterious powers of movement; cf. Job 38:32. They occupied certain positions, and moved upon certain paths, appointed them by God; and, like the sea, they were not able to pass the bounds set them.
And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.20–23. The Fifth Day. The Creation of Water Animals and Flying Animals
20. Let the waters … life] The rendering, “bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life,” fails to give the full meaning of the original. Literally, the words mean “let the waters swarm swarms, even living soul”: and the purpose of the command is that the waters are to teem with myriads of living animals. Hence the R.V. margin, “swarm with swarms of living creatures” is closer to the original; but it fails to reproduce the phrase “living soul,” in apposition to the word translated “swarms.” No translation is satisfactory which fails to give prominence to the thought, that the waters are to teem with things endowed with a wondrous new gift, the active principle of animal life, which the Hebrews called nephesh, and which is nearly represented by the Greek ψυχή. We might, therefore, translate “let the waters swarm with swarms of creatures, even with countless things which have life.”
That there should ever be any difficulty in deciding whether an organism belonged to the vegetable or to the animal “kingdom would never have occurred to an ancient writer.
The rendering “the moving creature” went wrong in following the ancient versions, which supposed that the word rendered in the margin “swarm,” denoted only “creeping things” or “reptiles.” LXX ἑρπετὰ ψυχῶν ζωσῶν. Lat. reptile animae viventis. This gives an entirely false impression. The command is for the creation of all sorts of water animals.
and let fowl fly] Rather, “and let winged things fly.” The command includes all creatures with wings, e.g. bats, butterflies, beetles, insects, as well as birds.
in the open firmament of heaven] This rendering scarcely reproduces the sense of the Hebrew words, which literally mean “in the face of,” or “over against, the firmament of heaven.” The idea is that winged things are to fly “above” the earth, and “in front of” the vault of heaven. The R.V. margin, on the face of the expanse of the heaven, is cumbrous and obscure. The meaning seems to be that the flight of winged things shall be in mid air, “in front,” as it were, of the solid “firmament of heaven,” which was not remote. The winged creatures would continually be visible against the sky.
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.21. And God created] Observe the use of the word “create” (Heb. bârâ). It signalizes a new departure of the Divine work, when the principle of animal life (nephesh) is first communicated on earth, and living animals are formed: cf. note on Genesis 1:1.
The writer does not directly speak of fish; but the water animals are described under two main classes, which would include all marine and fresh-water creatures.
the great sea-monsters] Better, “the great monsters.” The word in the Hebrew is applied to monsters, or creatures of strange and monstrous size, such as occur in mythological and poetical pictures, e.g. the Dragon, Behemoth, and Leviathan; cf. Psalm 74:13; Psalm 148:7, Isaiah 27; Isaiah 51:9. It was also used of the crocodile (cf. Ezekiel 29:3), and of snakes (Exodus 7:9). The Hebrew did not know of the megatherium, ichthyosaurus, iguanodon, &c. But the expression here used is singularly appropriate to them.
The translation of the A.V., “great whales,” was based upon the versions LXX τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα, Vulg. cete grandia; but the word is used of any animals of vast size. Moreover, there is no probability that the warm-blooded marine animal, which we call a “whale,” was known to the Israelites.
every living creature] Literally, “and all the living soul that moveth with which the waters swarmed.” This is the second main class of water animals, viz. all the things in which is the principle of animal life, and with which the waters teem. They are further described by their motion, “that moveth.” The Hebrew word denotes the gliding, swift movement of the fish for which there is no adequate English equivalent.
The LXX, πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζώων ἑρπετῶν, gives too restricted a sense and suggests only lizards and reptiles: while the Vulg. omnem animam viventem atque motabilem, like the R.V., is too general.
which … brought forth abundantly] Better, “with which the waters teemed” or “swarmed.”
after their kinds] Cf. Genesis 1:11-12; the expression has reference to the great variety of species of water animals.
and every winged fowl] or “and every winged flying thing”: LXX πᾶν πετεινὸν πτερωτόν. The actual word “bird” is not used, doubtless intentionally, in order that the class may comprehend as many varieties as possible of winged creatures.
The assignment of the creation of birds and fishes to the second day after that of vegetation is probably due to the view that an ascending scale of vitality is represented by plants, heavenly bodies, fish, and birds. Clearly the Israelite drew a very sharp line of distinction between the vegetable and the animal world. Modern science has shewn how infinitely fine is this line; and geology has shewn that, in the earliest rock formations which contain fossils, it is difficult to decide whether vegetable or animal life recedes into the most distant antiquity.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.22. God blessed them] With the creation of the living animals of the water and the air is introduced the mention of a new Divine act, that of blessing. It is connected with the gift of life (see note on Genesis 1:21). The animal world differs from the vegetable world in its distinctive principle of life. The animals possess powers, instincts, and energies which are to be exercised, and on the exercise of which God gives His blessing. He has placed them in conditions favourable to their development and multiplication. Modern science, especially as represented by the honoured names of Darwin and Lyell, has shewn in what wonderful and varied ways the blessing of God has attended both the multiplication of animal life and the adaptation of the animals to their surroundings.
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.24. Let the earth, &c.] The work of the sixth, like that of the third, day is twofold. Furthermore, the creation of the land animals on the sixth day seems to correspond to the creation of the earth on the third day.
The creation of the land animals immediately precedes that of mankind. It is implied that they are closer both in structure and in intelligence to the human race than the animals of the water and air. On the other hand, the words “let the earth bring forth” (the same phrase as is used in Genesis 1:11 of the creation of the vegetable world) emphasize the difference in origin between the land animals (“let the earth bring forth”) and mankind, who are described (Genesis 1:26-27) as, in a special manner, “created” by God Himself.
the living creature] viz. “living soul,” as above (Genesis 1:20-21). Here the words are used especially of the land animals. To speak of animals having “a soul” is strange to modern ears. But it was not so to the Israelites, who realized, perhaps better than we do, man’s kinship with the animal world, in virtue of that principle of nephesh, the mystery of life, which is shared by the animals and human beings.
after its kind] viz. the various species of the animals about to be mentioned.
cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth] This is a rough threefold classification of the animals dwelling on the earth: (1) “the cattle” (Heb. behêmah, LXX τετράποδα (= “quadrupeds”), Lat. jumenta (= “cattle”)), under which head are here probably classed all the domestic animals, e.g. oxen, sheep, horses, asses, camels, as in Jonah 4:11. Here it seems to be implied that the domestic animals were tame originally, and not through association with mankind. (2) “creeping things”; LXX ἑρπετά, Lat. reptilia. In this class seem to be included not only snakes and lizards, but also the smaller animals, generally, and the insect world. (3) “the beasts of the earth”; LXX θηρία τῆς γῆς, Lat. bestias terrae, viz. the wild beasts, strictly so called, as distinguished from the domestic animals.
24–31. Sixth Day:
(a) Creation of the Land Animals (Genesis 1:24-25);
(b) Creation of Man (Genesis 1:26-30);
(c) The End of the Creation (Genesis 1:31),
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.25. And God made] Notice the word “made,” Lat. fecit, not “created”; cf. Genesis 1:7; Genesis 1:16.
and God saw that it was good] It is noticeable that the blessing, which followed these words after the creation of the water animals and the birds (Genesis 1:22), is here omitted. Either the blessing was allowed to drop out, in order that the description of the sixth day might not become too long in comparison with that of the previous five days; or the blessing so fully pronounced upon man in Genesis 1:28-30 may be considered to embrace also the living creatures created on the same sixth day.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.26. Let us make] LXX ποιήσωμεν, Lat. faciamus. The use of the 1st pers. plur. is a well-known crux of interpretation. How are we to explain its occurrence in the utterance of the Almighty? The only other passages in which it is found are (1) Genesis 3:22, “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us”; (2) Genesis 11:7, “Go to, and let us go down, and there confound their language”; (3) Isaiah 6:8, “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Very different explanations have been given.
i. Until recently, the traditional Christian interpretation has seen in the 1st pers. plur. a reference to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The requirements of a sound historical exegesis render this view untenable: for it would read into the Book of Genesis the religious teaching which is based upon the Revelation of the New Testament.
ii. It has been regarded as a survival of polytheism, and has been compared with “Elohim,” a plural word for “God” which some regard as a relic of polytheism. But “Elohim, in the present context, is always combined with a verb in the singular. Why should “said” be in the singular, if “let us” indicates the plurality of Gods? Again, any departure from the strictest monotheism is unthinkable in the writing of the Priestly Code. The explanation may safely be dismissed as improbable in the extreme.
iii. It has been explained as the plural of Majesty. It is pointed out that the commands and rescripts of royal personages are conveyed in the 1st pers. plur.; and reference is made, in support of this view, to Ezra 4:18, 1Ma 10:19; 1Ma 11:31. It may be allowed that the view is tenable; but the examples adduced are drawn from a very late period of Biblical literature, and, as an explanation, it appears to be little in harmony with the directness and simplicity of the passage.
iv. It has been explained as the “plural of the fulness of attributes and powers.” It is pointed out that not only is the word for God (Elohim) plural in form, but also the words for “Lord” (Adon) and “Master” (Ba‘al) are often used in the plural of a single person. “It might well be that, on a solemn occasion like this, when God is represented as about to create a being in His own image, and to impart to him a share in that fulness of sovereign prerogatives possessed by Himself, He should adopt this unusual and significant mode of expression” (Driver, in loc.). It may, however, be questioned whether the passage in Genesis 11:7 satisfies the exacting requirements of this finely described test. Again, while “the plural of plenitude” in a substantive or adjective is unquestioned, it may be doubted, whether we should be right to explain the 1st pers. plur. of a verb on the ground that the speaker is one to whom the plural of the fulness of power can justly be attributed.
v. It has been explained as the plural of Deliberation. It has been truly remarked that there is more solemnity and dignity in the words, “Let us make man in our own image,” than would have been conveyed in the words, “Let me (or, I will) make man in my own image.” The entire simplicity of this explanation tends to recommend it.
vi. It was the old Jewish explanation that God is here addressing the inhabitants of heaven. In the thought of the devout Israelite, God was One, but not isolated. He was surrounded by the heavenly host (1 Kings 22:19); attended by the Seraphim (Isaiah 6:1-6); holding His court with “the sons of God” (Job 1:6; Job 2:1). We are told in a poetical account of the Creation, that when the foundations of the earth were laid, “all the sons of God shouted for joy,” Job 38:7 (cf. Psalm 29:1; Psalm 89:7; Psalm 103:19-22). It is claimed that, at the climax of the work of Creation, when man is about to be formed, the Almighty admits into the confidence of his Divine Purpose the angelic beings whose nature, in part, man will be privileged to share (Psalm 8:4-5, cf. Hebrews 2:7). At the risk of appearing fanciful, we may remind the reader that the birth of the Second Adam was announced by “the angel,” and “there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13)
It has been objected against this view (1) that the Priestly Narrator nowhere mentions angels, and (2) that the explanation tends to detract from the dignity of man’s creation. But (1) angels are not here mentioned; and if the plur. indicates their presence in attendance upon the Almighty, the picture which it suggests is in harmony with the religious thought of the Israelites; and (2) the work of creating man is neither delegated to, nor shared with, others. God “created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27); but, before creating him, He had associated with Himself all those who, through participation in image and likeness with Himself, would henceforth be allied to man.
The two last explanations appear to be the most probable.
man] Heb. âdâm. This, the first mention of “man” in Holy Scripture, is spoken by God. It denotes “mankind” generally. Note the plural “they” in the next sentence. On “Adam” as a personal name, see note on Genesis 2:7.
in our image, after our likeness] LXX reads “and after our likeness.” Some distinction must clearly be drawn between “image” (Heb. ṣelem; LXX εἰκών; Lat. imago) and “likeness” (Heb. d’mûth; LXX ὁμοίωσις; Lat. similitudo). The former is more permanent, the latter more fleeting. But the distinction cannot be pressed. In Genesis 1:1 we read “in the likeness (d’mûth) of God made he him,” and Genesis 5:3, “And he (Adam) begat a son in his own likeness, after his own image.” The most we can say is that “image” suggests reproduction in form and substance, physical or spiritual: and “likeness” gives the idea of resemblance and outward similarity. The words contain a truth which was wont to be exaggerated by Jewish and Patristic commentators. Man’s nature is made “in the image of God”; he possesses divine qualities indestructible and inalienable, which no animal possessed. He is made “after the likeness of God”; his character is potentially divine. He is capable of approaching, or receding from, the “likeness” of God. The resemblance can never be perfect: but it can increase, and it can diminish.
The view that there is any reference to the conception of an outward resemblance, in shape or form, to the Hebrew idea of the Personal Deity is wholly improbable, and is contrary to the spirit and teaching of the religion of Israel.
and let them have dominion, &c.] As this dominion is promised to man in virtue of his creation in God’s image, this sentence will helpfully shew that man’s superiority arises, not from physical strength, but through the equipment of his higher nature.
and over all the earth] It seems strange that mention of “the earth” should be interposed between two of the four classes of animals, “the cattle” and “every creeping thing,” over which man should rule. There can hardly be any doubt that the text, which is that also of the LXX and the Latin, has suffered from an early omission. We should read, with the Syriac Peshitto, “over all the beasts of the earth.” The addition of the words “beasts of,” in the sense of “the wild beasts of,” will complete the classification of living creatures, as (1) fish, (2) birds, (3) domestic animals, (4) wild beasts, (5) creeping things. This enumeration reproduces the animals previously mentioned (Genesis 1:20-25).
SPECIAL NOTE A, ON Genesis 1:26
Professor Davidson, On the plural form of the word Elohim.
“The plural form of the word Elohim might be supposed to have some bearing on the question of unity. And, indeed, by many it has been supposed to bear testimony to the plurality of gods originally worshipped among the Semitic peoples; and by others, who seem to consider the name Elohim part of God’s revelation of Himself, to the plurality of persons in the Godhead. The real force of the plural termination … is not easy, indeed, to discover. But a few facts may lead us near it. In Ethiopic the name of God is Amlâk, a plural form also of a root allied to melek—a king. All Shemitic languages use the plural as a means of heightening the idea of the singular; the precise kind of heightening has to be inferred from the word. Thus water—מַיִם—is plural, from the fluidity and multiplicity of its parts; the heavens—שָׁמַיִם—from their extension. Of a different kind is the plural of adon—lord, in Hebrew, which takes plural suffixes except in the first person singular. Of this kind, too, is the plural of Baal, even in the sense of owner, as when Isaiah uses the phrase בְּעָלָיו אֵבוּם (Genesis 1:3). Of the same kind, also, is the plural teraphim, penates, consisting of a single image. And of this kind probably is the plural Elohim—a plural not numerical, but simply enhancive of the idea of might. Thus among the Israelites the might who was God was not an ordinary might, but one peculiar, lofty, unique. Though the word be plural, in the earliest written Hebrew its predicate is almost universally singular. Only when used of the gods of the nations is it construed with a plural verb; or, sometimes, when the reference is to the general idea of the Godhead. This use with a singular predicate or epithet seems to show that the plural form is not a reminiscence of a former Polytheism. The plural expressed a plenitude of might. And as there seems no trace of a Polytheism in the name, neither can it with any probability be supposed to express a plurality of persons in the Godhead. For it cannot be shown that the word is itself part of God’s revelation; it is a word of natural growth adopted into revelation, like other words of the Hebrew language. And the usage in the words baal, adon, rab, and such like, similar to it in meaning, leads us to suppose that the plural is not numerical, as if mights, but merely intensifying the idea of might. Nor can it be shown to be probable that the doctrine of a plurality of persons should have been taught early in the history of revelation. What the proneness of mankind to idolatry rendered imperative above all and first of all, was strenuous teaching of the Divine Unity.” Davidson’s Theology of the O.T. pp. 99, 100 (T. and T. Clark).
SPECIAL NOTE B
Note on the Jewish Interpretation of Genesis 1:26
(a) Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan, “And the Lord said to the angels who ministered before Him, who had been created in the second day of the creation of the world, Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness.”
(b) Pesiḳta 34a (ed. Buber), “God took counsel with the ministering angels, and said unto them, Let us make, &c.”
(c) Philo (i. 556, ed. Mangey), “The Father of the Universe discourses to His own Hosts” (ταῖς ἑαυτοῦ δυνάμεσιν).
(d) Rashi, Commentary.
Humilitatem Sancti illius Benedicti hinc discimus, quoniam homo ad similitudinem angelorum creatus fuit et illi erga eum invidia incitati fuerunt, idcirco Deus cum illis consultavit.… Etiamsi angeli non opem tulerint ei Deo in illius creatione … non omittit tamen Scriptura, quominus doceat morem hominum modumque humilitatis, ut nimirum is, qui major est, consultet et facultatem impetret a minore, quod si scripsisset Moses faciam hominem, non docuisset nos, quod Deus locutus sit cum domo judicii sui; sed cum seipso; responsionem vero Epicuraeis opponendam scripsit Moses in latere ejus, “et creavit,” inquiens, hominem; non vero scripsit; “et creaverunt.”
Ed. Breithaupt, i. pp. 15, 17.
26–30. Let us make, &c.] The creation of man, although taking place on the same day with that of the land animals, is a completely separate creative act. It constitutes the climax and the crown of Creation. It is, therefore, described with especial fulness and solemnity. There is no formula, “let there be man,” or “let the earth bring forth man,” as in the case of the previous creative acts. We observe, (1) firstly, that God prefaces the creation of man with a declaration concerning (a) the Divine purpose; (b) man’s future nature; (c) his sphere of authority and influence (Genesis 1:26); (2) secondly, that in a direct and special manner God creates man, in His own image, both male and female (Genesis 1:27); (3) thirdly, that He both blesses them, and intrusts them with duties and powers upon the earth (Genesis 1:28); (4) fourthly, that He makes provision for their food and sustenance (Genesis 1:29), as well as for that of the lower animals.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.27. The reiteration of the principal words in the clauses of this verse has something of the rhythm of poetry. Repetition and love of detail are characteristics of the Priestly Code. “Created,” cf. Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:21 (see notes).
male and female] The distinction of the sexes, which is here given, has been omitted, probably for brevity’s sake, in the mention of the animals.
When, in view of the discoveries of the science of Anthropology, the question is asked whether there was one original pair of human beings, or whether each of the different races, Caucasian, Mongolian, , Red Indian, Australian, &c., originated from one pair, or from groups of pairs, we must answer that such questions do not come within the horizon of thought in our passage. They are to be solved not by Revelation in Holy Scripture, but by the exercise of the gifts of patient enquiry, accurate observation, and sound reasoning. The Hebrew writer has in view a population drawn from a single stock. His account of the origin of Man, applicable to one race, is symbolical of all, if a plurality of origin is to be assumed.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.28. The Blessing and the Command
28. replenish] The word is the same as that used in Genesis 1:22 of the fishes, “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters.”
and subdue it] A strong word, denoting subjugation to power. Man’s authority over the creatures of the earth confers upon him responsibility for the exercise of his powers. Supremacy over the fishes, the birds, and the beasts, will require courage, forethought, skill, observation, and judgement. The blessing, therefore, of “fruitfulness” is incomplete, until reinforced by the commission so to exercise the faculties as to ensure intellectual growth. In this connexion, compare Ray Lankester (“Rede Lecture, 1905”), “What we call the will or volition of Man … has become a power in nature, an imperium in imperio, which has profoundly modified not only Man’s own history, but that of the whole living world, and the face of the planet on which he lives.”
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.29. Provision of Food
In this verse God gives food to mankind consisting of the seed-bearing herbs and the fruit of trees. By comparison with Genesis 9:3, we see that the writer believed that, until after the Flood, mankind subsisted upon a purely vegetable diet. It may be asked how, if this were the case, man had the opportunity of exercising his dominion over fish, birds, and beasts: if he did not wish to eat them, neither would he wish to kill them. The truth seems to be that, according to the P version of Hebrew tradition, the first generations of mankind were intended to live, without bloodshed or violence, in an ideal condition, like that predicted by Isaiah (Genesis 11:6-9), “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” The prophet’s words, “a little child shall lead them,” imply a dominion over the animal world which does not rest upon force.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.30. to every beast of the earth] God ordains that the wild beasts, the birds, and all living creatures, shall have the leaves for their food. The words, “every green herb,” would be more literally “all the green, or verdure, of the herbs.” A distinction is, therefore, drawn between the food ordained for mankind and the food ordained for the animals. Man is to have the herb bearing seed and the fruit of the trees (Genesis 1:29): the animals are to feed on the grass and the leaves.
for meat] This expression, here and in the previous verse, is liable to be misunderstood by English readers. The Hebrew means “for food.” The word “meat” is an old English term for “food.” Cf. St Luke 24:41 A.V. “He said unto them, Have ye here any meat?” R.V. “Have ye here anything to eat?”
It may be asked whether we are to understand that, according to Genesis 1, the nature of animals was different at the first from what it became afterwards, and that they did not prey upon one another. The reply is that this was evidently the belief of the Israelite, as represented in this chapter. Like other features of the picture, it is childlike and idealized. Palaeontology has demonstrated, that, from the earliest geological period at which animal life can be shewn to have existed, the animals preyed upon one another. From the earliest days of animal life nature has been “red in tooth and claw.”
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.31. and, behold, it was very good] The work of the six days’ Creation having been completed, God, as it were, contemplates the universe both in its details and in its entirety. That which He saw to be “good,” on each separate day, was but a fragment; that which He sees to be “very good,” on the sixth day, is the vast ordered whole, in which the separate parts are combined. The Divine approval of the material universe constitutes one of the most instructive traits of the Hebrew cosmogony. According to it, matter is not something hostile to God, independent of Him, or inherently evil, but made by Him, ordered by Him, good in itself, and good in its relation to the purpose and plan of the Creator. The adjective “good” should not therefore be limited in meaning to the sense of “suitable,” or “fitting.” There is nothing “evil” in the Divinely-created universe: it is “very good” (LXX καλὰ λίαν: Lat. valde bona).