Literary Beauty of Genesis Chapter 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, NIV)

Genesis presents a perplexing question about the nature of the seven creation days, centering around the Hebrew word yôm, “day.” Are the six days of creation literal, twenty-four-hour days, which describe an actual week in which God created the world? Or do the “days” represent ages of indeterminate length, the so-called day-age theory? [1]

The general arrangement of the six days of creation divides into two main activities, forming and filling. The creative movements of forming and filling both take their cue from the language of verse 2:

Now the earth was formless and empty…

The earth, which was formless at the outset of creation, is given form on days 1-3. And the earth, which was empty or void at the first stroke of creation, is filled on days 4-6.

Study the chart below:

1:3-5 A. Day 1: light  
1:6-8   B. Day 2: seas, heaven        Forming
1:9-13     C. Day 3: earth, vegetation  
1:14-19 A’  Day 4: sun, moon, stars  
1:20-23   B’ Day 5: fish, birds           Filling
1:21-31    C’ Day 6: land animals, humans  
2:1-3 Day 7: Rest / Sabbath  

This chart tells us about God’s creative activity. Each succeeding day of God’s forming and filling activity is related. Take a look at day 1 and then day 4. On day 1 we learn about light and darkness; on day 4 we are introduced to the sun, moon and the stars, which fill up the sky. Now look at day 2 and then day 5. On day 2 God comes out with the seas and heaven; on day 5 the seas and heaven are filled with the creation of the birds and fish. And now look at day 3 and then day 6. Both day 3 and day 6 contain two acts of creation: earth and vegetation on day 3 and land animals and humans on day 6. So, the earth and vegetation formed and the animals and humans filled the earth. The writer of Genesis wants us to know that on day 1-3 God formed all the places in the universe, and then on days 4-6 He filled those places with various creations that would rule over what He had formed. I was in amazement to see the literary beauty of Genesis chapter 1.

Most conservative Christians are convinced that the days of Genesis must be literal twenty-four-hour days. For the biblical literalist, this is the plain meaning of the text. But for now, stand back, reexamine and absorb the aesthetic beauty and goodness of the account itself. The writers of The Genesis Factor say: “The creation account of Genesis is good literature, not a scientific manual. The details of the creation account are necessary for the existence of the world. But the beauty of the presentation of the text is an extra. We wonder if the color and aesthetic care of the textual arrangement ought not to give us hope-hope that perhaps this text comes from the goodness of Providence. Whatever you think of how historical the text is, take a moment to appreciate the ornate text that has been handed down to us. The process of creation has a certain aesthetic beauty.”[2]

Should we be too concerned with the issue of how long it took God to create the universe? Should this debate be used as a litmus test to determine who is really serious about Christ? Bill T. Arnold says no, this is not a faith issue. If it were important to know how long it took God to create the world, the Bible would have made it clear. The important lesson from Genesis 1 is that he did in fact create it, and that he made it orderly and good in every respect.[3]

[1]Arnold, Bill T. Encountering the Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003

[2] Helm, D. R., and J. M. Dennis. The Genesis Factor. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.

 [3] Arnold, Bill T. Encountering the Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003

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