Rightly Dividing

What Not to Believe

Photo thanks to keyphotographics

Genesis 1:1 frames our beliefs about God in such a way that certain other beliefs are necessarily ruled out. As various commentators indicate, the creation account precludes:

  • Atheism, the belief that there is no god. Verse 1 assumes God’s existence. There is no proof provided, or apparently necessary. It is taken for granted. I guess the point is, only a fool would say there is no God (Psalm 14:1). God exists.
  • Polytheism, the belief that there are many gods. Verse 1 makes plain that there are not multiple gods responsible for the universe as the result of of their petty fights. He is one God.
  • Pantheism, the belief that god is part of creation. Verse 1 reveals that God is distinct from His creation
  • Dualism, the belief that both good and evil are eternal and have been battling forever. Verse 1 reveals that only God was around, therefore, only good was around.
  • And while we’re at it, verse 2 (and the rest of the Bible) rules out Deism, the belief that God created and then doesn’t intervene after.

Genesis 1:1 frames our beliefs about God in such a way that certain other beliefs are necessarily ruled out. As various commentators indicate, the creation account precludes:

In just ten English words (seven Hebrew words), Genesis 1:1 reveals that God exists, that God is one God, that God is separate from creation, and that He made somethings out of nothing. The origin of the universe is attributed to the only ever-existent, omnipotent, proactive, and purposeful Elohim.

That means our world is not an evolutionary result of chance, random variation, stray molecules, or willy-nilly gods. Genesis 1:1 shows God’s initiative (He moved first), independence (God moved apart from external influence) intention (God created with purpose), and intelligence (God created with creativity and order).

However, not everyone takes Genesis 1:1 and the rest of chapter one as truth. Is it because there isn’t enough evidence? Is it because the information is unclear? Is it because Moses seems like he’s speculating or making up a fairy tale? No. Moses treats this as pure history (as does the rest of the Bible, like Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Psalm 8; 104; Matthew 19:4-6; 2 Peter 3:5; Hebrews 11:3-4). God’s creation of the heavens and earth is not something to be proven, it is something to be believed. That is exactly the point in Hebrews 11:3.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

Creation is an issue of faith. The revelation of intelligent design, from an initiating, powerful God as the first cause is there to be believed. You will never argue someone into creationism. They have all the information and evidence they need (see Romans 1:18-23). What they don’t have is faith.

If you get verse 1 right, you’re on the road to get right the rest of the Bible. If you understand that one, sovereign, initiating God created everything and controls it all, then you understand that you owe your every breath to Him. We are all a part of His story. This isn’t an academic exercise, it is an adoration exercise.

Comments (copied)

Trinian said September 29, 2008 at 12:05 pm:

Very nice. In college especially you get a lot of lectures about different creation stories and how the biblical account has pulled (stolen) elements from surrounding cultures – trying to show that it is not a novel or unique story. What you have outlined here is four important points that make a clear distinction between God’s account of creation and any other civilization’s story. Sure they may all talk about waters and serpents and such, but when you look at the foundation as you have, the unique distinctions are clear. The foundation of the transcendent and imminent eternal God is completely unique and clearly shown even in the first chapter of the Word.

And I don’t think you can ever overstate the importance of the intention of God in His creation. Isaiah 45 restates it well – [the Lord] Who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited. There’s just no way we can (rightly) conclude that it just sort of happened this way, or that God is making it up as He goes along. He made it, and He made it for a very specific purpose with a very intentional plan.

As for the creation being an issue of faith, absolutely – and it’s the kind of faith that Christ praises most often; not the sort that believes unequivocally in something it can’t see or understand, but the kind that looks at the physical and observable evidence and then by faith connects that evidence with an unseen and holy God (resulting in action, of course). Looking forward to more!

SKH said September 29, 2008 at 1:17 pm


Thanks for the comment. Maybe half of the fifteen or so commentaries I read in preparation suggested that Moses had at least read, if not borrowed from, other cosmogonies. Only one, that I recall, suggested that the other creation accounts borrowed from or were written polemically against Genesis. Oh our doubting age.

Interesting that you quoted Isaiah 45:18. That passage is the verse used by Gap theorists, suggesting that the tohu va bohu in Genesis 1:2 must have come after the earth’s deterioration (due to the fall of Satan or something) since Isaiah claims God did not create it “empty.” I indicated here that Isaiah is writing about God’s purpose in creation whereas Moses is writing about the process.

And finally, did I get the paragraph breaks in the right places?

Trinian said September 30, 2008 at 4:06 pm:

Funny how presuppositions work. I’m working on a lesson including that chapter, and I never would have come up with that interpretation just from reading the passage. It just seemed obvious that the word (whether it be void, empty, in vain, without purpose, etc) refers directly to the following statement that it was going to be inhabited.

If you’re going to start reading this passage with the kind of semantic viewpoint that you brought up – that God could not have created an “empty” world – then God had to have created a world instantly populated by people since Isaiah clearly defines “not empty” as “inhabited”. It’s ludicrous and makes God a liar for 5 days – unless His purpose for creating the world was for it to not be void, rather than being His Day 1 blueprint.

Just curious, are there any commentaries that would deny that Moses had read pagan cosmogonies? And yet so many books seem to jump from this scandalous “know about” theory to “constructed from” without probing anywhere further than similar symbolism.

Leila Bowers said October 2, 2008 at 10:18 pm:

I have never understood how academics use commonality in myths to prove they are all false. Logically, if all societies have a story about the flood, a dying god, creation, etc., wouldn’t that lead an intelligent person to assume they must all be rooted in one truth that has been distorted though various cultures over time? Wouldn’t it reveal there WAS a creation and a flood, and even in broken and pagan myths, the echoes of the concept of Messiah that Eve and Adam must have dimly understood and passed down to their children, down to their children, etc.?

I have heard the hypothesis that with the Tower of Babel not only did God confuse the languages, but also divided the people, perhaps linking with the theory of Continental Drift. Thus, the different mutations and similarities amongst world myths.

Phil said October 3, 2008 at 7:22 pm:

@Leila, it’s quite true that “an intelligent person” could conclude that these other faiths are mere variants of one primitive faith. But not everyone would agree that this one foundational faith is Christianity as we know it.

I really hate to sound like an agnostic, but where do we get the idea that “evolution” and God are incompatible? When making such attacks we should probably be more careful with our language and use the term “Darwinism” rather than the all-encompassing “evolution,” unless we intend to rule out any possibility of God being a driving force in macroevolution. We can’t take Genesis’ lack of scientific detail to mean that such details were not present: there is no mention of atoms in Genesis, but from scientific observations we can confirm their existence. Do we throw out the science, or adjust our reading of Genesis?

SKH said October 3, 2008 at 8:48 pm:


I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, that you are playing the devil’s advocate, because otherwise, this may be the least intelligent and most accommodating thing I’ve ever heard you say.

Sure not everyone agrees that the “one foundational” faith is Christianity, or better yet, the worship of Yahweh. It is also true that not everyone believes that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, or that the Bible is God’s Word, so on and so forth. What “everyone” agrees on is not what we’re after, ever.

As for evolution and God being incompatible, I would ask you to explain where the Bible talks about evolution of any kind. Really. For my part, I do intend to rule out any and all possibility of “God being a driving force in macroevolution,” because the Bible could not be more obvious that when God “said,” “it was so.” That means it wasn’t so after thousands or millions of years. It wasn’t so after thousands or millions of mutations that crossed taxonomic groups (since everything reproduced “according to its kind” and since no such fossil records exist, or for that matter could have existed if death came in Genesis 3 when Adam sinned [which Paul also confirmed in Romans 5]).

We don’t have to throw out science, but we do throw out conjecture as far and as fast as we can. Atoms can be discovered, sure. But no type of evolution (or Darwinism or what have you) has been or will be discovered, theistic or naturalistic. If you want unproven and unprovable, unobserved and undiscoverable, guesses for “science,” you can have it, right after you redefine “science.”

Phil said October 4, 2008 at 10:28 am:

Ok, my love of excessive wordage has detracted from what I meant to say. Basically, I was just hoping to confirm whether or not you really did intend to rule out all forms of evolution. I personally remain open to theistic evolution, and I don’t think it detracts at all from God’s role in creation. If anything, I believe it magnifies his supremacy as an intelligent and powerful force, orchestrating the formation of minute structures which we haven’t even begun to understand. True, the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention evolution of any kind. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here since I haven’t studied any Hebrew, but I might ask if “it was so” denotes immediacy in the original language.

If your goal is to encourage healthy discussion of a still unsettled topic, I hope we can continue to exchange our views, being mindful that we’re both Christians and that the ultimate purpose of our discussion is to glorify Him. I don’t think such a discussion is possible, however, if we have the attitude that the other’s views are unintelligent and not worthy of consideration. Whether or not you would admit it, your affirmations about Genesis are as much conjecture as are mine, and I haven’t thrown them out yet. If they weren’t, Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan might be firebrand theists by now.

Leila Bowers said October 5, 2008 at 7:08 pm:

Phil – I grew up a Christian and fought evolution all the way through public school (I remember asking my 8th grade teacher where the space came from). My father is an anthropologist, so I was well armed, and was also firmly a theistic evolutionist throughout college. I encourage you to listen to the sermon I’m sure SKH will post from this Sunday. Also, a pivotal read for me was Jonathan’s Sarfati’s “Refuting Compromise.” It is an outstanding treatment from a primarily Biblical but also scientific perspective. Considering the man is a genius, it is a meaty and excellent text, and was the main force (other than my husband) in my converting to six-day Creation.

It really came down to this: Evolution is based on death and mutation. There is no way around that. Now, if you believe that death and decay and disability only came about after the Fall, because of Adam’s sin, per Romans 5, then it is absolutely impossible for God to have used evolution, in any form, to create the heavens, the earth, and everything on the earth. Moreover, as one who used to argue “the means don’t matter, as long as God did it,” I have realized it does matter – A LOT. How you treat Genesis 1 determines how you treat the rest of the Bible – what is literal and what is not. If you can treat Genesis 1 as an allegory, let’s say, or just “poetic writing,” then what keeps you from making the Exodus, Jonah, Elijah, and even Christ allegorical? You are on a very slippery slope when you take God-breathed, inerrant text and attempt to make it fit with man-centered, flawed philosophy or science (and that’s even conceding that Evolution has anything at all to do with science).

Phil said October 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm:

Leila, thank you first of all for putting up with my comment with such graceful patience and not becoming defensive. Re your 8th grade comment, I should point out that evolution is not synonymous with the Big Bang, although they do tend to flow neatly into each other. All I’ll say is that neither the Big Bang nor evolution make any attempt to explain where that initial singularity came from — I think religion can keep that one.

I do understand some of the reasons why people would prefer a literal interpretation of Genesis. Admittedly I haven’t heard all that there is to be said about it, so I’m very curious to look into that further. Since I don’t take the Bible to be as literal as some fundamentalists would, I remain open to differing views of Genesis and, as you put it well, “the means don’t matter, as long as God did it.” Don’t misunderstand, I’m not nearly that flippant about the creation account, but at this point my goal is to remain open on such a subjective topic that I don’t think can be so easily settled. A naive “black and white” view of Genesis simply won’t do in my opinion. Although the Bible is indeed inerrant, our interpretation of it is not. People can claim to preach or study “directly from the Bible,” but their interpretive set is invariably going to affect how they read it. While I’m sure we share the same fundamental views on what I’ll term more “basic” principles of Christianity, I think we have a lot more work to do with Genesis.

Leila Bowers said October 6, 2008 at 9:16 pm:

Phil – I encourage you then to pursue your curiosity and keep studying and digging deeper! Only the Word can convict, grow, and, as it were, prove its own “black and whiteness.”

I don’t think Genesis is in any way subjective – inerrant truth cannot coincide with subjectivity. Use the Bible to prove the Bible. An instance of this would be Sarfati, who commits a massive chapter in his book to the use of “yom,” the Hebrew word for “day.” Nowhere in the entire Bible does a definite adjective (i.e. “first,” “second,” etc.) + “yom” NOT equal a literal 24-hour period. That means it has to be a literal day, per the Bible (not subjective interpretation – the fact of the Hebrew language).

Finally, I don’t think we agree on “basic” claims of Christianity if you don’t believe death entered the world because of Adam’s sin. I believe that God created the world and it was good – no death, no decay, no mutation, no disability, no sin. Then, because of Adam’s sin, we fell and both spiritual and physical death entered God’s perfect creation (and we suddenly needed a Savior). This is why we have an entire Old Testament, Abraham, the Exodus, the Law, and the Prophets. They all point to Christ – if you don’t believe in original sin, there is no need for Christ to walk on this planet, and if no need for Christ to walk, teach, suffer, die, and rise again, then no Christianity.

So, if you believe that God could have used death and mutation to create a perfect world, and death didn’t enter the world via Adam’s sin, then we don’t have the same faith, because if God can use death, then He created it and introduced it to the World – we are not, then, sinners, and we have no need of Christ. That’s a pretty big basic element of Christianity.

Trinian said October 13, 2008 at 10:44 am:

Oh man, I’m missing out here… Phil, I’m grateful for your replies. It’s rare to find someone on the internet with your mindset who doesn’t immediately become hostile when challenged, so I’d like to take some advantage of that before you disappear back into the mist of the interweb to ask you a few questions that I’ve been curious about for some time. And please, for all of these, give me your honest beliefs and opinions.

First, certainly it cannot be argued that from your position you have essentially stated that Genesis (or this portion at least) is not the ultimate source of truth concerning the subject that it discusses – the creation of the universe and its inhabitants – and by this I mean that any data it gives us you believe must be considered in the overriding context of the available scientific theories of our time. Do you feel that in doing this that you have in any way placed God’s revelation as subservient to human understanding? If the answer is “no, not at all” and you believe that you can conclude evolution-like concepts or anything that would lead to a non-6-day schedule of creation where sin and death are present during the creative process from God’s revelation itself as the ultimate non-subservient source, I would be very interested to know.

Second, if however, the answer is yes and God’s revelation of how He accomplished His creation must comply with our understanding of the world around us, then my next question is what parts of the Bible do you believe are the ultimate sources of knowledge about the subjects they discuss, subservient to no human complaint, disagreement, or ideal? What makes these portions of God’s revealed inerrant scripture different from those portions that are not?

Third, this last question I’m stealing from SKH, since he made me so curious about it on Saturday… Please re-read Genesis 1-2 (I’m trusting you to do this) and answer the following hypothetical question: If God through Abraham wanted to convey that He had created the world in 6 literal days, what kind of word or phrase could He have used that He didn’t already that would have made that point clearer?

Again, thank you for your clear, honest answers.