What Is the Point of Genesis 1?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are several possible interpretations of the individual verses in Genesis 1, but if we step back and look at the overall theme of the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, what is it about?

The creation account of Genesis 1, as the preamble to the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), announces that the God of Israel, the covenant Deliverer of his people, is Creator of all that exists. The opening verse says it all: the God of covenant and the God of creation are one and the same.

God is depicted as the autonomous Master who has by his uncontested word commanded all things into existence and ordered their design and purpose. In the ancient near east during the second millennium BC, there were other creation stories.  In those, the ordered universe owed its existence to a struggle between a hero deity and a beast which represented chaos and disorder. The gods of creation were depicted primarily as re-ordering unruly matter, not creating matter.

The ancients’ understanding of origins was tied to their concept of the natural world as alive and personal. They believed that natural phenomena were related to the activities of the gods. Ancient myth, then, tells of a threatening and unpredictable world where the gods operate, placing society at their mercy.

Against this backdrop the Genesis 1 account speaks volumes regarding the uniqueness of biblical revelation.  Indeed, God’s Word was required to liberate antiquity from its superstitions and fear of the world that was viewed as a playground for fickle and cruel gods.  Genesis 1 teaches that God is and that he is Sovereign Lord above and over nature. God created the universe by his speaking it into existence.

In Genesis 1, God not only creates all matter out of nothing, he then orders and designs that matter to become productive. He separates light from darkness; the sky from waters below; the land from the waters. Vegetation, birds, fish, land animals, and finally human beings, fill God’s creation.

In summary, the God of Genesis 1 is not re-ordering an already existing natural world. He is not fighting against other pre-existing gods. The God of Genesis 1 is creating the natural world from scratch, and then giving it order and design – making it productive. Although Christians who take the Bible to be the Word of God may differ on the details, we should all agree that this is what Genesis 1 is ultimately about.

  • Bll,

    In this post are you consciously taking issue with John H. Walton’s thesis in “The Lost World of Genesis One”?

  • No, I am not. I have heard of the book, but I have never read it.

    I have been heavily influenced by John Sailhamer’s thinking, but I consider this interpretation of Genesis 1 to be pretty uncontroversial among Christians. There are always some who will disagree, but I would think this interpretation would garner a lot of agreement.

  • My understanding of Walton’s thesis is that he believes Gen 1 is describing functions, not materials. That is, he does not believe Gen 1 is describing material creation, but the purposes to which God was dedicating the material creation.

    He does believe in a historical Adam and Eve but I’m not sure how he integrates that with the idea of Gen 2 not describing material creation.

  • Here’s an author dealing with Sailhamer and Walton at the same time: bit.ly/1fZ1aSX

  • Thanks very much, Mike. I recall hearing William Lane Craig talk about Walton’s thesis in his Defenders podcast. He did not think ti dealt fairly with the text of Genesis 1.