Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 1:1–3

Genesis 1:1–3
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.  3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
(NET Bible)

God Begins Everything

The Bible begins by asserting a fact: to answer those who wonder why anything is here at all, the author of Genesis says God created everything. Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham quotes another scholar in saying, “’The first subject of Genesis and the Bible is God.’”[1]

Of course, many scientists abhor the idea that Genesis 1:1 presents a definite beginning brought about by God. The agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow has written:

When a scientist writes about God, his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers. . . . However, I am fascinated by the implications in some of the scientific developments of recent years [i.e. the Big Bang]. The essence of these developments is that the Universe had, in some sense, a beginning — that it began at a certain moment in time, and under circumstances that seem to make it impossible — not just now, but ever — to find out what force or forces brought the world into being at that moment. Was it, as the Bible says, “Thine all powerful hand that creates the world out of formless matter”? No scientist can answer that question; we can never tell whether the Prime Mover willed the world into being or the creative agent was one of the forces of physics; for the astronomical evidence proves that the Universe was created 15 billion years ago in a fiery explosion, and in the searing heat of that first moment, all the evidence needed for a scientific study of the cause of the great explosion was melted down and destroyed.[2]

Many scientists earnestly wish scientists like Jastrow would not say such things. His remarks reveal that scientists rely on faith just as Christians do; only the object of faith differs. The event Jastrow describes is the “Big Bang,” the prevailing theory of how the universe began. Some scientists have strongly resisted the Big Bang model of origins because a definite beginning for the universe takes the discussion too far toward the words of Genesis.[3]

But let us turn from the committed skepticism of some scientists to gain a better understanding of the biblical text. The word for “God” in Gen. 1:1, Hebrew elohim, is the most common word for deity and can be used for any god. The author of Genesis intentionally used elohim to let it be known that the creator of the whole universe is the God he describes, not merely some local deity. In part, Genesis counters other religious views of creation common in the ancient east.

Wenham explains: “It is important to appreciate the fact that Hebrew elohim is not simply synonymous with English ‘God.’ Thanks to secularism, God has become for many people little more than an abstract philosophical concept. But the biblical view avoids such abstractions.”[4] While contemporary society tends to marginalize God, the Bible shows that he is central to all that happens.

In saying “the heavens and the earth,” the author of Genesis uses a figure of speech (merism) that means “the universe.” We use the same type of idiom today when we say we refashioned something from top to bottom.

The Hebrew verb b?r?’, (Gen. 1:1) means “God creates,”[5] which makes clear the lexical fact that God is the only subject of this verb in the Old Testament. (Verbs normally take more than one kind of subject.) Ross offers a significant word study of b?r?’, and concludes:

The word b?r?’ is used exclusively for the activity of God in which he fashions something anew. The word can be used for creating something out of nothing, but that idea must come from the context and not from the inherent meaning of this word.[6]

Genesis 1:1 tells us the world did not just happen by chance. At a stroke, Genesis 1:1 sweeps aside atheism, cynicism, pantheism, humanism and naturalism. In their place we have God!

Many scholars have debated the complex details of Gen. 1:1–2, which is not surprising. Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke presents the most convincing conclusion, held by many, when he says:

The evidence, therefore, seems convincing that verse 1 should be construed as a broad, general declaration of the fact that God created the cosmos, and that the rest of the chapter explicates [expands] this statement. . . . It is concluded, therefore, that the structure of the account of the creation of the cosmos is as follows:

I. Introductory summary statement, 1:1.

II. Situation prior to the creation, 1:2.

III. Narrative of creation, 1:3–31.[7]

The Unformed Earth

The NET Bible Notes describe the state of the earth before the creative activity of God (Gen. 1:2): “What we now know as ‘the earth’ was actually an unfilled mass covered by water and darkness.”[8] In such a world there was nothing to distinguish any point from any other point; it was an empty, lifeless wasteland. Only later would God add an abundance of life to the oceans (Gen. 1:20) — but not yet.

Concerning Genesis 1:2, which he headlines as the “Negative State of Earth before Creation,” Waltke says: “The starting point of the story may be somewhat surprising. There is no word of God creating the planet earth or darkness or the watery chaos. The narrator begins the story with the planet already present, although undifferentiated and unformed.”[9]

In addition to being featureless and empty, the primeval earth was shrouded in “darkness,” waiting for God’s light-bearing word (Gen. 1:3). Most of us live in cities filled with ambient light, even at night. But this darkness (Hebrew, roughly k?shek) was pitch black; when it occurred during the plague of darkness in Pharaoh’s Egypt, the Egyptians had to grope for anything they sought (Exod. 10:21). Their eyes were useless! Ross says, “Darkness throughout the Bible represents evil and death — it is not conducive to life.”[10]

In this featureless gloom over the primeval world, the Spirit of God “was moving” over the surface of the water just as surely as darkness covered the surface of the deep. The Spirit moved in readiness (Gen. 1:2) to breathe life into the creation in a similar way to the Lord God subsequently breathing into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Nothing comes about in either case apart from the creative activity of God! The key activity in Gen. 1:2 is the “moving” of the Spirit of God; apart from the Spirit’s presence, the earth would have remained lifeless and shrouded in darkness.

The “God said” formula occurs ten times in chapter one (verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29), and in every case immediate change results. In Gen. 1:3, the author even uses short forms of the verbs to make the sentence as powerfully brief as possible. The Net Bible Notes say these verbs “form a profound wordplay [yehi ’or vayehi ’or; “let there be light and there was light”] to express both the calling into existence and the complete fulfillment of the divine word.”[11]

Wenham points out: “Throughout Scripture the word of God is characteristically both creative and effective. . . . But in this creation narrative these qualities are even more apparent.”[12]

In relation to “light,” Wenham says, “Light is often used metaphorically for life, salvation, the commandments, and the presence of God (Ps. 56:14; Isa. 9:1; Prov. 6:23; Exod. 10:23). It is the antithesis, literally and metaphorically, of k?shek ‘darkness.’”[13] For those who are wondering what the source of light might be, Waltke says, “Since the sun is only later introduced as the immediate cause of light, the chronology of the text emphasizes that God is the ultimate source of light.”[14] In Gen. 1:4, “God saw how beautiful the light was” (Hamilton’s translation).[15]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 14, quoting O. Procksch.

[2] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, Second Edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000) 9–10.

[3] Hugh Ross, “Big Bang Model Refined by Fire,” Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 363, 369.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.

[5] HALOT, bara’, God creates, q.v.

[6] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 728.

[7] Bruce K. Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part III,” Bibliotheca Sacra vol. 132, num. 527 (July-September, 1975) 227–228.

[8] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:2.

[9] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 59. Hamilton reaches the same conclusion (Genesis, 117); so does Ross (Creation & Blessing, 104–107).

[10] Ross, Creation & Blessing, 106.

[11] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:3.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[13] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[14] Waltke, Genesis, 61.

[15] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 118.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:48

Matthew 5:48
“So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

From misunderstanding to understanding

In politics, many Americans have proven to be more fond of a good sound bite than they are of sound reasoning. The same desire for simplicity — false but reassuring — also affects people’s choices when they stick to an erroneous interpretation of the Bible.

Keep in mind that Eve found Satan’s false but simple argument really compelling, yet she found only spiritual ruin from it (Genesis 3). You must look deeper to understand what Jesus requires of his disciples. Are you willing?

Some verses create lots of needless difficulty, and the cause is generally an inadequate English translation. The English word perfect simply does not fit either the underlying Greek word (teleios) or this context. So, how did we wind up with a misleading English word in so many translations?

Perfect (5:48) was the word chosen by William Tyndale in the very first English translation of the New Testament (1526) based on the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale did not have a Greek New Testament to guide his work because they were not published in Europe until 1534.[1] About 85 percent of Tyndale’s popular translation became part of the Authorized Version, which we call the King James Bible, and the translation perfect in Matt. 5:48 was part of that incorporated material.

Bible translator William Mounce explains the second factor that often prevents English translation improvements: “The argument [in the translation committee] was, “This is such a well-known verse that we can’t change it.’”[2] Such forces of familiar tradition are strong in the Sermon on the Mount!

Craig Blomberg puts us onto the right plan when he says, “’Perfect’ here is better translated as ‘mature, whole,’ i.e., loving without limits . . . . Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will — to become more like him.”[3] The key idea here is completeness, or loving without limits. God’s willingness to love even his enemies sets the example for the disciples of Jesus. Just as the Father is whole and undivided in his love, so must the disciples be!

The interpretation just given makes sense out of the initial phrase so then (5:48a). Verse 48 is a conclusion based on what has been taught previously. The Gentiles and tax collectors love their own kind (5:46-47), but we must look to God for our model of love, not our peers.

In spite of the fact that virtually all modern commentators agree on what has been said above about the correct interpretation of 5:48, it is not hard to find someone who teaches sinless perfection as the command of Christ. But that idea is very hard to reconcile with the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in which they pray for the forgiveness of the debt (of sin) between themselves and God (Matt. 6:12). Why would a perfect disciple need to ask forgiveness? Even stronger are John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, ESV).

However, I must address a potential criticism. Someone might claim that I was teaching that God is not perfect. Far from it! What I do say is that such an idea is not what Jesus was teaching here. Instead, he was holding up God’s character as the example of love for his disciples to follow. God loves the just and the unjust, and so must we.

Improving the imperfect

Since Jesus is calling on his disciples to become more like the Father, that is the task we imperfect disciples need to focus on.

There is urgency in our need to adopt what Jesus says. Paul tells us: “Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31). That day is coming fast!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 3, S.L. Greenslade, Ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963) 61.

[2] William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 38.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 115.

 

Books: Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin (Part 2)

In my first post on Lesslie Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence, I described Newbigin’s analysis of how skepticism captured the American mind and came to dominate in 2011. But, as the book title demonstrates, Newbigin is also trying to show how to have “proper confidence” even in the face of such pressure to trust nothing.

The heart of the book is chapter 3, which presents the ideas of Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) about “personal knowledge.” Polanyi, a Hungarian, was a kind of universal genius who made contributions to many fields including physical chemistry and the theory of knowledge. Polanyi rejected the idea of scientific objectivity because he believed that “all knowing of reality involves the personal commitment of the knower as a whole person.”[1]

As a research scientist, Polanyi had asked himself how scientific discoveries are made, and he concluded — as described by Newbigin — the following factors were involved:

1. “Learning is a skill which, like any other skill, cannot be acquired by the unaided mental processes of the student. It is acquired by working with and under the direction of those who are already skilled.”[2] [This sounds very much like attaining Christian maturity. BA]

2. “Scientists work by ‘indwelling’ this tradition. The assumptions, the assured findings of the past, and the methods of science become part of their own equipment on which they rely….Likewise when we have come to use a language freely, we indwell the language….By indwelling it we are able to make contact with the world around us.”[3] By indwelling the tradition and using the language of the field of knowledge, the scientist trusts the ‘fiduciary framework’ he has received and uses it to make further advances in knowledge. [The more biblical knowledge and outlook we absorb, the better we can follow the Holy Spirit into deeper understanding. BA]

3. “Recognition of a problem is an awareness, an intuition that there is something — a pattern or a harmony waiting to be found — hidden in the apparent haphazardness of empirical reality. This cannot be more than an intuition. And it may prove to have been an illusion….At every point along this course, there is need of personal judgment in deciding whether a pattern is significant or merely random.”[4] All of this relies so heavily on personal judgment and imagination that it is absurd to pretend it is all objective.

4. “In the work of the scientist, the focal point of attention has around it a vast area of what Polanyi calls ‘tacit knowledge.’ There is a vast amount which we know, which in fact guides our thinking, but which we do not explicitly formulate.”[5] [All we have previously learned about God contributes to what we are trying to learn. BA]

5. “That science will eventually enable us to understand everything in the visible world through the discovery of mass and energy laws governing the behavior of the smallest particles of matter, and that science will therefore enable us to eventually predict and control all events is an illusion….So also, to come to a well-known example, the laws of mechanics set limits on what any machine can do, but they do not explain the purpose for which the machine was constructed….We have to be informed either by the designer of the machine or by someone who is accustomed to using it for its proper purpose….For an explanation of the purpose of the machine we depend upon a personal communication accepted in faith.”[6] [This has wonderful applicability to man. Only the creator can tell us why man was created and what he should do to accomplish his purpose. We have to accept that information by faith, because we have no other way to learn it. BA]

6. “Although all claims to know involve a personal commitment, the scientist makes them ‘with universal intent.’ He claims that they are true not just for himself but for everyone….Knowing always involves the personal commitments of the knowers, for which they are prepared to risk their careers as scientists.”[7] [Christians learn by testing their ideas against those of other believers as well as through obedience to Christ in their behavior. BA]

Concluding Thoughts

“It follows (and this is Polanyi’s point) that there can be no knowing without personal commitment. We must believe in order to know. Polanyi emphasizes the fact that knowing is a form of activity. Like all activity it involves the interaction of a person with a word beyond him or her. It is an activity which (as we have seen) involves the whole person in a passionate commitment to make contact with reality.”[8]

I accept Polanyi’s view of personal knowledge. It is the most convincing I have ever read, and it conforms to what I both knew and saw in the laboratory while earning my master’s degree in engineering. The public has little grasp of the degree to which faith is part of the fabric of science, just as Polanyi says. This has been reported many times before.

The fact that we cannot achieve certainty — even certainty about God — through reasoning alone should not trouble us as Christians. God’s revelation in the Bible regularly calls on us to commit ourselves to Christ, his commands and his statements about the future with our faith. Committing to Christ and his Word — without being able to prove certainty — is what faith is all about. We believe in order to know, and the more we believe what our Lord has said, the more we will learn. The Bible makes plain that those who passionately seek God will surely find him.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 39.

[2] Ibid., p. 40.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 41.

[5] Ibid., pp. 41–42.

[6] Ibid., pp. 42–43.

[7] Ibid., p. 43.

[8] Ibid., p. 50.

 

RE: “Is God your ‘biggest fan’?” by Roger Olson

Check out this link to get an insightful post by Roger E. Olson on trivializing the gospel.

Olson tells about an article he picked up in a consumer setting that made a clumsy attempt to sell the reader on God by presenting God as “your biggest fan.”  Olson does a fine job of showing how the article dishonors God and fails to represent him in a biblical way.

Alongside this woeful trend toward trivializing the gospel is the one that wants to make the gospel a consumer product. It is as if the consumer goes to the store and gets some cereal, some milk, and a little container of God, flavored to their personal taste. Just the way you like it!

It is hard to see how Christians can be a light to the world if all they do is try to seamlessly blend in with the culture and give no offense. I doubt Jesus is going to be very patient with such weak faith.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Books: The Hand of God praised by Arnold Fruchtenbaum

It felt great when I got the following review of my new book The Hand of God from Arnold Fruchtenbaum (Th.M., Ph.D.), the founder and president of Ariel Ministries. Ariel Ministries was “created to evangelize and disciple our Jewish brethren.”

available at Amazon.com

Here is the review:
Most books today on the spiritual life deal almost exclusively on the New Testament and only rarely try to find some principles from the Old Testament. But the Old Testament saints were highly spiritual and obviously had a close walk with the Lord, and yet the New Testament was not available to them.
Mr. Barry Applewhite in his work The Hand of God has provided insightful portrayal of many principles of the spiritual life using almost exclusively the Old Testament and even historical segments of the Old Testament. Without denying the literal meaning of the text, and without ignoring what the Old Testament text itself is teaching, Mr. Applewhite has drawn out many fine spiritual principles that are still applicable to New Testament believers. After giving a basic survey of the Old Testament material, each chapter concludes with specific points of spiritual principles which are applicable to all believers.

I am happy to highly recommend this fine work and encourage everyone to get a copy of it and read and apply it for deeper spiritual benefits.

Yours for the salvation of Israel,
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum
President and Founder, Ariel Ministries

Ariel Ministries may be found here.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Mercy Triumphs

Sometimes I hear Christians say that God looks at us objectively. They talk like that is a wonderful thing, but I assure you it is not!

Paul tells us exactly what we were like before we gave our allegiance to Jesus when he says we were “helpless … ungodly … sinners … enemies [of God]” (Romans 5:6 and 5:10). I’ll stand aside and let all of you who are so excited about objectivity rush forward to claim those qualities! Face it — objectively speaking, we all deserved death from a righteous, holy God.

How fortunate we are that sandwiched in between all that objectivity is a warmly subjective reason for our hope: “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

So, if you want to know how to balance objectivity and subjectivity, listen to what James tells us: “Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13, NET Bible.

I’ll take God’s subjective love every time!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.