God “has made everything beautiful in its time; also, he has set eternity in [human] hearts” (Ecc 3:1).1]

Therefore, despite worshiping idols, those living in the Ancient Near East (ANE) could capture glimpses of truth.2]

Members of those societies would have embraced several creation accounts current in their day. Consequently, Genesis 1 emerges as a very deliberate statement of the Hebrew perspective of creation over rival views.3]

Moses appears to have edited preexisting material and his own writing into one coherent document shortly after the exodus.

For example, Joseph likely received the family records of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after Jacob elevated him to the position of firstborn (Gen 49:3–4, 22–26; 1 Chr 5:1–2). This also explains the lengthy treatment of Joseph’s life Gen 37; Gen 39–50). Moses apparently utilized these documents when writing Genesis.

Coming from approximately seventy years of slavery,4] the people of Israel needed a reminder of the history of God’s covenant with them and their ancestors.

The Bible was written for us who read it today but not to us (1 Cor 10:11). Therefore, we can gain new insights by reading the Old and New Testaments through the lenses of ANE and Greco-Roman culture. When we read the Bible, we are looking over the shoulders of people living in very different cultural contexts.

As we seek to comprehend their circumstances and viewpoints, we gain a greater depth of understanding.5

Moses, by receiving his education in the Egypt’s court as the son of pharaoh’s daughter, gained unique access to the ANE myths which show close connections with Genesis 1–11 (Exod 2:1–10; Acts 7:20–22).

For example, scholars date both the Atrahasis Epic from Mesopotamia and the Eridu Genesis from Sumer earlier than 1600 BC.6]

These works exhibit commonalities with Noah’s experiences and some very important differences. By understanding this ancient literature, we can better grasp what Moses sought to communicate in the text of Genesis.7]

Genesis 1 contains several features of Hebrew poetry, especially rhyme and repetition. Note the cadence of tohu wabohu (“formless and empty”) in verse 2. Thus, poetic narrative best describes this genre.

Since poets arrange words to elicit images in our minds which create an emotional response, interpretation of Hebrew poetry should focus upon what the passage as a whole seeks to communicate.8]

Both Augustine, a 4th century bishop, and John Calvin recognized that Moses wrote of these events in a way which his audience would understand,9] rather than in a scientific manner.10]

In segments of our society, people have erected a false dichotomy, asserting that science and the Bible clash. Yet scientists seek to answer how the world and humanity came into existence, while theologians ask why they were created. Thus, no true conflict exists.[11]

Rather than science posing a threat to God, it reveals the process he chose to use to create.[12]

Therefore, the question we seek to answer when approaching this chapter is “What did Moses intend to communicate to his original audience?”[13]

In the first chapter of Genesis, each element of nature and all of the animals played a role in the Lord’s plan for the world. Therefore, he described them as “good.” 14]

However, the climax of God’s creative work was the creation of people, those whom he made in his own image. He called them to live in close fellowship with God, acting as stewards of the world he created.

After making Adam and Eve, the Lord then affirmed his work as “very good.”


Go to In the Beginning of God’s Creating


[A related post is Author and Date of Genesis]


[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]


[1] Where an excerpt of the Bible appears in quotation marks, this is the author’s translation from the Hebrew Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) or the Greek Novum Testamentum Graecae, 28th ed. (NA28). In order to preserve the emphasis of the biblical authors, I retain the word order whenever possible. Hebrew and Greek writers placed what they considered most important first in the sentence or clause.

[2]Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008), 25.

[3]Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), 9.

[4] Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 310.

5 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (ed. D. A. Carson; New Studies in Biblical Theology; Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 6.

[6] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 23.

[7] Walton, Genesis, (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 84.

[8] William N. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd Ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 357.

[9]John Calvin, John King, trans., Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 256–7.

[10]Augustine, John Hammond Taylor, trans., The Literal Meaning of Genesis (ACW; New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 19.

[11]Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 349.

[12]Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), 233.

[13] Walton, Genesis, 82.

[14]John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 88.

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