Today we dig into the importance of “bara” and “the heavens and the earth”.
- The weight of creation has far reaching implications.
For example, science has demonstrated that all the following “had a beginning in finite time” – Hugh Ross.
- All matter and energy
- All space-time dimensions “within which matter and energy are distributed” – Ross.
- Genesis 1 seems to make the same claim.
And philosophically, the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God stems from creation.
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore the universe has a cause.
Moreover, philosophically, Genesis 1 provides the answer to the following question…
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
Yet, regardless of whatever scientific and philosophical implications Genesis 1:1 may or may not have, I am most concerned with
- Its theological significance,
- Moses’ Message,
- And, John Sailhamer and John Walton’s take.
1) BARA, BARA, ONLY GOD CAN BARA
A huge implication of “bara”:
“It should be noted that God, the God of Israel, is always the subject of ברא” – Gordon Wenham.
- “Creation is never predicated [on] pagan deities” – Gordon Wenham.
- In other words, the use of “bara” in the OT is reserved only for God.
- “Bara” is something only the God of Israel can do.
- Not man
- Not pagan gods
Because of this, the HALOT actually refers to “bara” as a theological term.
- One reason is an implication of the exclusivity of “bara”.
The fact that only God can “bara” highlights the difference between Creator and creation.
- God puts it as follows:
- Job 38:4–7 (ESV) — 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
The God that called out Moses and led the Israelites out of Egypt is wholly other from creation.
- He is not contingent upon creation.
A.W. Pink puts it like this:
“God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own good will’” – A.W. Pink.
Meaning of “bara”:
- It has two important meanings in our text.
(1) In context of Genesis 1, “Hebrew linguists define it as ‘bringing into existence something new, something that did not exist before’” – Hugh Ross.
- The TWOT puts it this way, bara “seems to carry the implication that the physical phenomena came into existence at that time and had no previous existence in the form in which they were created by divine fiat” – TWOT.
- The DBL simply says it means, “to make something that has not been in existence before”.
BTW – It is readily admitted that Genesis 1 does not tell us what God used to create the universe – out of nothing, or out of material that He had previously created.
- We will see that John Walton makes this a piece of his particular view.
- Although Genesis does not state God created “ex nihilo”, most understand, as we just saw, the theological concept of “bara” as making such a claim.
- This is also buttressed by other OT Scriptures – Wenham references Proverbs 8:22-27, e.g.
(2) “Bara” also carries the following sense:
“The idea of ordering or determining function, suggesting God’s creative activity consisted of bringing proper order and function to the cosmos” – Michael Heiser.
- Again, this is a theological claim.
- God didn’t just create He also created with purpose and function.
Moses’ Message Reprise:
God’s ordering and assigning function to His creation is an important consideration in our ongoing Moses’ Message theme.
- Moses already knew that God created, covenanted and called out when he wrote Genesis.
- He himself was called out to be part of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel.
- He knew that history was heading somewhere – the Promised Land, for example.
- Creation that calls out image bearers to glorify God and participate in the fellowship and love of God is creation with a purpose.
John Sailhamer’s Take:
John Sailhamer would embrace all of the above meanings of “bara”.
- Genesis 1 is a material account of creation and God assigns purpose.
John Walton’s Take:
John Walton has other ideas.
- It is called a functional view of creation and it is foundational to his view of Genesis 1.
This view makes a distinction between “function-giving activity” and “material activity”.
- He says Israel, as an ANE culture, would have framed her creation story as a “function-giving activity” and not a “material activity”.
This is because, “the ancient world defined existence in terms of having a function in an ordered system. This functional ontology indicated that the line between existence and nonexistence was functional, not material” – John Walton.
Why does Walton make this claim?
- “People in the ancient Near East did not think of creation in terms of making material things— instead, everything is function oriented…Creation thus constituted bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition” – John Walton.
- For him, the nonfunctional condition was Genesis 1:2 (chaos).
- What this means is that “to create something (i.e., bring it into existence) would mean to give it a function or a role within an ordered cosmos” – John Walton.
He further explains:
- “There is no concept of a ‘natural’ world in ancient Near Eastern thinking. The dichotomy between natural and supernatural is a relatively recent one” – John Walton.
“The Israelites, along with everyone else in the ancient world, believed instead that every event was the act of deity— that every plant that grew, every baby born, every drop of rain and every climatic disaster was an act of God. No ‘natural’ laws governed the cosmos; deity ran the cosmos or was inherent in it” – John Walton.
In other words, Israel, as an ANE culture, would write an ANE creation story not a modern one.
- And things in their world were meaningful because of their function and purpose.
- So what they wanted to know is not how an object physically came to be – like moderns.
- They wanted to know how God or the gods assigned it function and purpose.
How does Walton’s view specifically relate to Genesis 1?
- He argues that Genesis 1 does not describe a “material activity” but creation through “functional activity”.
- Implying that God’s creation was an earlier event.
- So Genesis, as an ANE creation story, is not concerned with material creation.
- Its concern is with God assigning order, function and purpose to His creation.
He says that in Genesis, “God created by assigning functions throughout the heavens and the earth…”
- God’s assigning function “was accomplished in the seven-day period that the text calls ‘the beginning’” – John Walton.
- And he argues that the fact that Genesis does not deal with the “stuff” used in creation, as we saw earlier, buttresses his view.
BTW – He wants to be clear, “If we conclude that Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins, we are not thereby suggesting that God is not responsible for material origins” – John Walton.
Some OT Examples of Functional use of Bara:
Of these examples, Walton says they “cannot be used to prove a functional ontology, but they offer support that existence is viewed in functional rather than material terms, as is true throughout the rest of the ancient world” – John Walton.
- Psalm 102:18 (ESV) — 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
- Psalm 148:5 (ESV) — 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.
- Isaiah 41:19–20 (ESV) — 19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, 20 that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
- Isaiah 43:7 (ESV) — 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Time to move on.
- We will come back to the implications of this view in the coming weeks.
2) HEAVENS AND THE EARTH
It seems all are in agreement about the meaning of the phrase “the heavens and the earth”.
- The phrase is a merism.
- This means that as a phrase it obtains a different meaning than each word would convey individually.
- One author suggests dragonfly as an example.
- Obviously a dragon and a fly are not a dragonfly.
John Sailhamer explains it as follows:
“In the case of the merism ‘sky and land,’ the terms shamayim (‘sky’) and eretz (‘land’) represent two extremes in the world. By linking these two extremes into a single expression—‘sky and land’ or ‘heavens and earth’— the Hebrew language expresses the totality of all that exists. Unlike English, Hebrew doesn’t have a single word to express the concept of ‘the universe’; it must do so by means of a merism” – John Sailhamer.
Others agree with this meaning.
- “This merism represents the cosmos, meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives” – Bruce Waltke.
- And it does so in all its OT uses.
- “The expression ‘the heavens and the earth’ indicates the totality of the universe” – Kenneth Mathews.
- Gordon Wenham simply says that the merism refers to “the universe” in its “totality”.
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross gives it a scientific spin.
“All of the stars, galaxies, planets, dust, gas, fundamental particles, background radiation, black holes, physical space-time dimensions, and voids of the universe—however mysterious to the ancient writer—would be included in this term” – Hugh Ross.
John Walton’s Take:
Walton apparently agrees with this take.
- He doesn’t address it in The Lost World of Genesis One.
John Sailhamer’s Take:
As we saw, Sailhamer is in line with the rest of our commentators.
- However, he points out that the meaning of the merism is too often read into verse 2 and the six days of creation.
- “We have filled the word with a meaning it clearly did not suggest to its original readers” – John Sailhamer.
- “Eretz” in verse 1 does not mean the same as “eretz” in verse 2, for example.
- In verse 2 it means land – horizon to horizon from a humans perspective.
He is not the only one that sees the need for a distinction.
- It is “quite feasible for a mention of an initial act of creation of the whole universe (v 1) to be followed by an account of the ordering of different parts of the universe” – Wenham.
- Specifically, “eretz” as the “area in which man thinks of himself as living” – Wenham.
Bruce Waltke also agrees with these distinctions and says “eretz” actually has three meanings in Genesis 1.
- The merism meaning
- Dry land
- The planet earth
Sailhamer draws out some very important implications in verse 2 and the six days based on what he sees as a right handling of “eretz” – land.
- We will tease these out in the coming weeks.
- It has to do with “eretz” equaling the Promised Land not verse 1’s earth.
Pertaining to “the heavens and the earth” we asked last week –
- What are “the heavens and the earth”?
- Is this all of creation – the universe?
- Is this literally heaven and earth or is this a figure of speech for something?
We now have our answers.
- There is really no disagreement about them.
- It is the implications of this fact that lead to discord.
Pertaining to “bara” we also asked last week –
- What does “bara” mean?
- Was “bara” in the beginning?
The first we answered today.
- There is really no disagreement about what “bara” means.
- Again, the discord arises when the implications of its meaning are applied to Genesis 1.
- As when Walton focuses on it’s functional against its material meanings.
- The second we answered last week.
Sailhamer and Walton’s views are beginning to take shape.
- As we get into Genesis 1:2, their views will really begin to fill out.
Thus far, Sailhamer sees “in the beginning” as a creation event, not an introduction.
- Its length of time is unknown, but it is a separate event from the six days – “time before time”.
- The “heavens and the earth” tell us what God created “in the beginning” – the totality of the universe.
- For Sailhamer, this includes the earth, light, water the sun and the moon, etc.
- Finally, we saw that Sailhamer sees the six days as not about the earth meaning of “eretz”, but the land meaning of “eretz”.
- The earth meaning is mistakenly carried over from verse 1.
- And the “eretz” is the Promised Land.
Thus far, Walton sees “in the beginning” as only an introduction – not a creation event.
- He suggests it is “a beginning”…
- Not to a material creation event but,
- To a functional creation event.
- The “heavens and the earth” is the totality of the universe.
- A universe God presumably created prior to Genesis 1.
- The six days of creation are about God assigning purpose, order and function to His creation not material creation.
- Something that all ANE cosmologies concerned themselves with.