A Fresh Look at Genesis One

In the beginning, the Bible had no chapters and verses. The creation of biblical chapters took place around the year 1227; of verses in the Hebrew Bible around 1448; and of verses in the New Testament around 1555. In other words, these internal divisions are neither original nor ‘authoritative’, though now more or less universally accepted. I mention this because what’s now called “The first creation account” in Genesis begins at 1:1, but ends at 2:3. So why was a chapter division inserted at Genesis 1:31? 

If you read the opening pages of Genesis, I’d suggest that what is now the first chapter does indeed give the impression of being a single, completed ‘block’ of text. It moves steadily from its beginning to a climactic event – the creation of human beings as the ‘kings and queens of the castle”. God contemplates his handwork, and considers it “very good”. So what are we to say about the opening verses of chapter 2, which now seem to be some sort of ‘add on’?

We need to understand that the Hebrew Bible did not suddenly drop, as a complete and homogeneous book, from the skies above. Over a period of around 1,000 years, this varied collection of ‘books’ gradually came into existence. A variety of sources, oral and written, all from different time periods and locations, were amalgamated. It had innumerable writers and editors, and would have been subject to ongoing revisions. I’m suggesting here that the current chapter one was an earlier version of a creation account revised, and with several ‘verses’ then added, when it reached its final shape. Later, I’ll explain why, but first I want to focus on the earlier version, and give it a fresh look. 

At the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth there was, everywhere, total darkness. Somewhere, in the midst of that cosmic blackout, was the flat tableland of the earth. If visible, it would’ve been seen to be barren and empty, devoid of any vegetation and living creatures. That this had always been the case (for as long as ‘always’ had lasted) is suggested by its being entirely submerged under a watery deep. 

Water has a tendency to flow, and this suggests the idea that, in the pitch-black darkness, there was movement. One of the causes of water’s movement is the movement of air, experienced as wind, and so there comes the idea of a ‘wind of God’, blowing across that deep. What then happens is unexpected and breathtaking. ‘Light’, being suddenly switched on, brings contours, shapes and colours into appearance. Space and time are born into experiential and meaningful existence.

There were originally, I believe, eight (rather than six) days, as separate stages in the subsequent ‘creative’ process, each of which is introduced by the words “God said”. Next time, I’ll look at why these eight stages became six, and also why they were ‘supplemented’ by the following 3 verses.

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