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Genesis

Genesis is about beginnings. It tells us that God created everything that exists. It shows that God is both Creator and the Ruler of all creation. But it also tells of humanity's tragic fall into sin and death and of God's unfolding plan of redemption through his covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Genesis includes some of the most memorable stories in the Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve continuing through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and ending with the life of Joseph, who died before 1600 BC. Jews and Christians have recognized Moses as the author, writing after the Exodus from Egypt, commonly dated around 1440 BC though many prefer a date around 1260 BC.

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Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

In the beginning. It sounds so simple, yet behind it lurk many of the ultimate questions of philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. Unfortunately, it is often the sad duty of the exegete to penetrate the sublime in pursuit of the tedious. The moment we begin to ponder the phrase, its cloud like simplicity dissipates to reveal rugged mountain peaks. In the beginning of what? Many readers may have never specifically asked themselves this question, but most have an answer in their heads. We realize that it is not the beginning of God and therefore not the beginning of everything. Is the author suggesting a beginning of something abstract, such as time or history? Is it perhaps a more scientific beginning like the beginning of matter or the universe? Is it possible that we are trying too hard and that the beginning is literary? What about something more personal: our beginning as a human race? Before we pursue the answer to this question, however, we need to consider our methodological assumptions. The questions just posed work on the assumption that the word beginning must indicate the beginning of something. But does the Hebrew usage carry the same implication? One of the greatest obstacles we face in trying to interpret the Bible is that we are inclined to think in our own cultural and linguistic categories. This is no surprise, since our own categories are often all that we have; but it is a problem because our own categories often do not suffice and sometimes mislead. The fact that the Hebrew word can be translated in the beginning does not mean we can now be content to explore the English word beginning in English terms and categories. Linguistic and cultural information must be derived from linguistic and cultural sources. In this case we must explore the usage of this word in the Hebrew Bible and see if any cultural information across the ancient Near East can help. Certainly the Hebrew word refers to the beginning of something. But there is more to it than that. The unique function of the term as referring to an initial period or duration rather than to a specific point in time.