|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:1,2 The first verse of the Bible gives us a satisfying and useful account of the origin of the earth and the heavens. The faith of humble Christians understands this better than the fancy of the most learned men. From what we see of heaven and earth, we learn the power of the great Creator. And let our make and place as men, remind us of our duty as Christians, always to keep heaven in our eye, and the earth under our feet. The Son of God, one with the Father, was with him when he made the world; nay, we are often told that the world was made by him, and nothing was made without him. Oh, what high thoughts should there be in our minds, of that great God whom we worship, and of that great Mediator in whose name we pray! And here, at the beginning of the sacred volume, we read of that Divine Spirit, whose work upon the heart of man is so often mentioned in other parts of the Bible. Observe, that at first there was nothing desirable to be seen, for the world was without form, and void; it was confusion, and emptiness. In like manner the work of grace in the soul is a new creation: and in a graceless soul, one that is not born again, there is disorder, confusion, and every evil work: it is empty of all good, for it is without God; it is dark, it is darkness itself: this is our condition by nature, till Almighty grace works a change in us.
Verse 1. - In the beginning, Bereshith, is neither "from eternity," as in John 1:1; nor "in wisdom" (Chaldee paraphrase), as if parallel with Proverbs 3:19 and Psalm 104:24; nor "by Christ," who, in Colossians 1:18, is denominated ἀρχὴ; but "at the commencement of time." Without indicating when the beginning was, the expression intimates that the beginning was. Exodus 20:11 seems to imply that this was the initiation of the first day's work. The formula, "And God said," with which each day opens, rather points to ver. 3 as its proper terminus a quo, which the beginning absolute may have antedated by an indefinite period. God Elohim (either the highest Being to be feared, from alah, to fear, - Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Keil, Oehler, &c., or, more probably, the strong and mighty One, from aul, to be strong - Gesenius, Lange, Tayler Lewis, Macdonald, Murphy, &c.) is the most frequent designation of the Supreme Being in the Old Testament, occurring upwards of 2000 times, and is exclusively employed in the present section. Its plural form is to be explained neither as a remnant of polytheism (Gesenius), nor as indicating a plurality of beings through whom the Deity reveals himself (Baumgarten, Lange), nor as a plural of majesty (Aben Ezra, Kalisch, Alford), like the royal "we" of earthly potentates, a usage which the best Hebraists affirm to have no existence in the Scriptures (Macdonald), nor as a cumulative plural, answering the same purpose as a repetition of the Divine name (Hengstenberg, Dreschler, and others); but either
(1) as a pluralis intensitatis, expressive of the fullness of the Divine nature, and the multiplicity of the Divine powers (Delitzsch, Murphy, Macdonald); or,
(2) notwithstanding Calvin s dread of Sabellianism, as a pluralis trinitatis, intended to foreshadow the threefold personality of the Godhead (Luther, Cocceius, Peter Lombard, Murphy, Candlish, &c.); or
(3) both. The suggestion of Tayler Lewis, that the term may be a contraction for El-Elohim, the God of all superhuman powers, is inconsistent with neither of the above interpretations That the Divine name should adjust itself without difficulty to all subsequent discoveries of the fullness of the Divine personality and nature is only what we should expect in a God-given revelation. Unless where it refers to the angels (Psalm 8:5), or to heathen deities (Genesis 31:32; Exodus 20:3; Jeremiah 16:20), or to earthly rulers (Exodus 22:8, 9), Elohim is conjoined with verbs and adjectives in the singular, an anomaly in language which has been explained as suggesting the unity of the Godhead. Created. Bara, one of three terms employed in this section, and in Scripture generally, to describe the Divine activity; the other two being yatzar, "formed," and asah, "made" - both signifying to construct out of pre-existing materials (cf. for yatzar, Genesis 2:7; Genesis 8:19; Psalm 33:15; Isaiah 44:9; for asah, Genesis 8:6; Exodus 5:16; Deuteronomy 4:16), and predicable equally of God and man. Barn is used exclusively of God. Though not necessarily involved in its significance, the idea of creation ex nihilo is acknowledged by the best expositors to be here intended. Its employment in vers. 21, 26, though seem ugly against, is really in favor of a distinctively creative act; in both of these instances something that did not previously exist, i.e. animal life and the human spirit, having been called into being. In the sense of producing what is new it frequently occurs in Scripture (cf. Psalm 51:12; Jeremiah 31:12; Isaiah 65:18). Thus, according to the teaching of this venerable document, the visible universe neither existed from eternity, nor was fashioned out of pre-existing materials, nor proceeded forth as an emanation from the Absolute, but was summoned into being by an express creative fiat. The New Testament boldly claims this as a doctrine peculiar to revelation (Hebrews 11:3). Modern science explicitly disavows it as a discovery of reason. The continuity of force admits of neither creation nor annihilation, but demands an unseen universe, out of which the visible has been produced "by an intelligent agency residing in the unseen," and into which it must eventually return ('The Unseen Universe,' pp. 167, 170). Whether the language of the writer to the Hebrews homologates the dogma of an "unseen universe" (μὴ φαινομένον), out of which τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι, the last result of science, as expressed by the authors of the above-named work, is practically an admission of the Biblical doctrine of creation. The heavens and the earth (i.e. mundus universus - Gesenius, Kalisch, &c. Cf. Genesis 2:1; Genesis 14:19, 22; Psalm 115:15; Jeremiah 23:24. The earth and the heavens always mean the terrestrial globe with its aerial firmament. Cf. Genesis 2:4; Psalm 148:13; Zechariah 5:9). The earth here alluded to is manifestly not the dry land (ver. 10), which was not separated from the waters till the third day, but the entire mass of which our planet is composed, including the superincumbent atmosphere, which was not uplifted from the chaotic deep until the second day. The heavens are the rest of the universe. The Hebrews were aware of other heavens than the "firmament" or gaseous expanse which over-arches the earth. "Tres regiones," says Poole, "ubi ayes, ubi nubes, ubi sidera." But, beyond these, the Shemitie mind conceived of the heaven where the angels dwell (1 Kings 22:19; Matthew 18:10), and where God specially resides (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; Psalm 2:4), if, indeed, this latter was not distinguished as a more exalted region than that occupied by any creature - as "the heaven of heavens," the pre-eminently sacred abode of the Supreme (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 105:16). The fundamental idea associated with the term was that of height (shamayim, literally, "the heights" - Gesenius, Furst). To the Greek mind heaven meant "the boundary" (οὑρανος, from ὁρος - Arist.), or, "the raised up" (from ὀρ - to be prominent - Liddell and Scott). The Latin spoke of "the con cavity" (coelum, allied to κοῖλος, hollow), or "the engraved" (from coelo, to engrave). The Saxon thought of "the heaved-up arch." The Hebrew imagined great spaces rising tier upon tier above the earth (which, m contradistinction, was named "the flats"), just as with regard to time he spoke of olamim (Gr. αἰῶνες). Though not anticipating modern astronomical discovery, he had yet enlarged conceptions of the dimensions of the stellar world (Genesis 15:5; Isaiah 40:26; Jeremiah 31:37; Amos 9:6); and, though unacquainted with our present geographical ideas of the earth's configuration, he was able to represent it as a globe, and as suspended upon nothing (Isaiah 40:11; Job 26:7-10; Proverbs 8:27). The connection of the present verse with those which follow has been much debated. The proposal of Aben Ezra, adopted by Calvin, to read, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was" is grammatically inadmissible. Equally objectionable on the ground of grammar is the suggestion of Bunsen and Ewald, to connect the first verse with the third, and make the second parenthetical; while it is opposed to that simplicity of construction which pervades the chapter. The device of Drs. Buckland and Chalmers, so favorably regarded by some harmonists of Scripture and geology, to read the first verse as a heading to the whole section, is exploded by the fact that no historical narration can begin with "and." To this Exodus 1. It is no exception, the second book of Moses being in reality a continuation of the first. Honest exegesis requires that ver. I shall be viewed as descriptive of the first of the series of Divine acts detailed in the chapter, and that ver. 2, while admitting of an interval, shall be held as coming in immediate succession - an interpretation, it may be said, which is fatal to the theory which discovers the geologic ages between the creative beginning and primeval chaos.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. By the heaven some understand the supreme heaven, the heaven of heavens, the habitation of God, and of the holy angels; and this being made perfect at once, no mention is after made of it, as of the earth; and it is supposed that the angels were at this time created, since they were present at the laying of the foundation of the earth, Job 38:6 but rather the lower and visible heavens are meant, at least are not excluded, that is, the substance of them; as yet being imperfect and unadorned; the expanse not yet made, or the ether and air not yet stretched out; nor any light placed in them, or adorned with the sun, moon, and stars: so the earth is to be understood, not of that properly so called, as separated from the waters, that is, the dry land afterwards made to appear; but the whole mass of earth and water before their separation, and when in their unformed and unadorned state, described in the next verse: in short, these words represent the visible heavens and the terraqueous globe, in their chaotic state, as they were first brought into being by almighty power. The prefixed to both words is, as Aben Ezra observes, expressive of notification or demonstration, as pointing at "those" heavens, and "this earth"; and shows that things visible are here spoken of, whatever is above us, or below us to be seen: for in the Arabic language, as he also observes, the word for "heaven", comes from one which signifies high or above (a); as that for "earth" from one that signifies low and beneath, or under (b). Now it was the matter or substance of these that was first created; for the word set before them signifies substance, as both Aben Ezra and (c) Kimchi affirm. Maimonides (d) observes, that this particle, according to their wise men, is the same as "with"; and then the sense is, God created with the heavens whatsoever are in the heavens, and with the earth whatsoever are in the earth; that is, the substance of all things in them; or all things in them were seminally together: for so he illustrates it by an husbandman sowing seeds of divers kinds in the earth, at one and the same time; some of which come up after one day, and some after two days, and some after three days, though all sown together. These are said to be "created", that is, to be made out of nothing; for what pre-existent matter to this chaos could there be out of which they could be formed? And the apostle says, "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear", Hebrews 11:3. And though this word is sometimes used, and even in this chapter, of the production of creatures out of pre-existent matter, as in Genesis 1:21 yet, as Nachmanides observes, there is not in the holy language any word but this here used, by which is signified the bringing anything into being out of nothing; and many of the Jewish interpreters, as Aben Ezra, understand by creation here, a production of something into being out of nothing; and Kimchi says (e) that creation is a making some new thing, and a bringing something out of nothing: and it deserves notice, that this word is only used of God; and creation must be the work of God, for none but an almighty power could produce something out of nothing. The word used is ElohimÃ¶, which some derive from another, which signifies power, creation being an act of almighty power: but it is rather to be derived from the root in the Arabic language, which signifies to worship (f), God being the object of all religious worship and adoration; and very properly does Moses make use of this appellation here, to teach us, that he who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth is the sole object of worship; as he was of the worship of the Jewish nation, at the head of which Moses was. It is in the plural number, and being joined to a verb of the singular, is thought by many to be designed to point unto us the mystery of a plurality, or trinity of persons in the unity of the divine essence: but whether or no this is sufficient to support that doctrine, which is to be established without it; yet there is no doubt to be made, that all the three Persons in the Godhead were concerned in the creation of all things, see Psalm 33:6. The Heathen poet Orpheus has a notion somewhat similar to this, who writes, that all things were made by one Godhead of three names, and that this God is all things (g): and now all these things, the heaven and the earth, were made by God "in the beginning", either in the beginning of time, or when time began, as it did with the creatures, it being nothing but the measure of a creature's duration, and therefore could not be until such existed; or as Jarchi interprets it, in the beginning of the creation, when God first began to create; and is best explained by our Lord, "the beginning of the creation which God created", Mark 13:19 and the sense is, either that as soon as God created, or the first he did create were the heavens and the earth; to which agrees the Arabic version; not anything was created before them: or in connection with the following words, thus, "when first", or "in the beginning", when "God created the heavens and the earth", then "the earth was without form", &c (h). The Jerusalem Targum renders it, "in wisdom God created"; see Proverbs 3:19 and some of the ancients have interpreted it of the wisdom of God, the Logos and Son of God. From hence we learn, that the world was not eternal, either as to the matter or form of it, as Aristotle, and some other philosophers, have asserted, but had a beginning; and that its being is not owing to the fortuitous motion and conjunction of atoms, but to the power and wisdom of God, the first cause and sole author of all things; and that there was not any thing created before the heaven and the earth were: hence those phrases, before the foundation of the world, and before the world began, &c. are expressive of eternity: this utterly destroys the notion of the pre-existence of the souls of men, or of the soul of the Messiah: false therefore is what the Jews say (i), that paradise, the righteous, Israel, Jerusalem, &c. were created before the world; unless they mean, that these were foreordained by God to be, which perhaps is their sense.
(a) "altus fuit, eminuit", Golius, col. 1219. (b) "quicquid humile, inferum et depressum" ib. Colossians 70. Hottinger. Smegma Orient. c. 5. p. 70. & Thesaur. Philolog. l. 1. c. 2. p. 234. (c) Sepher Shorash. rad. (d) Moreh Nevochim, par. 2. c. 30. p. 275, 276. (e) Ut supra. (Sepher Shorash.) rad. (f) "coluit, unde" "numen colendum", Schultens in Job. i. 1. Golius, Colossians 144. Hottinger. Smegma, p. 120. (g) See the Universal History, vol. 1. p. 33. (h) So Vatablus. (i) Targum Jon. & Jerus. in Genesis 3.24. T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 54. 1. & Nedarim, fol. 39. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The Old Testament
THE FIRST BOOK OF MOSES, CALLED GENESIS. Commentary by Robert Jamieson
Ge 1:1, 2. The Creation of Heaven and Earth.
1. In the beginning—a period of remote and unknown antiquity, hid in the depths of eternal ages; and so the phrase is used in Pr 8:22, 23.
God—the name of the Supreme Being, signifying in Hebrew, "Strong," "Mighty." It is expressive of omnipotent power; and by its use here in the plural form, is obscurely taught at the opening of the Bible, a doctrine clearly revealed in other parts of it, namely, that though God is one, there is a plurality of persons in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit, who were engaged in the creative work (Pr 8:27; Joh 1:3, 10; Eph 3:9; Heb 1:2; Job 26:13).
created—not formed from any pre-existing materials, but made out of nothing.
the heaven and the earth—the universe. This first verse is a general introduction to the inspired volume, declaring the great and important truth that all things had a beginning; that nothing throughout the wide extent of nature existed from eternity, originated by chance, or from the skill of any inferior agent; but that the whole universe was produced by the creative power of God (Ac 17:24; Ro 11:36). After this preface, the narrative is confined to the earth.
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