Biblical Chronology, Vol. 9, No. 10
Copyright James B. Jordan 1997
Now that we have examined three unacceptable approaches to the events recorded in Genesis 1, it is only fair for me to set out what does seem to be recorded there.
To begin with the source of this narrative: Since no human being was present to observe these events, we must assume that this narrative was revealed directly by God to a human author. There are three ways this might have happened. First, we might read, "God said to Abraham (or Joseph or Moses): "In the beginning I created the heavens and the earth…." This is not what we find, however. Thus, if Genesis 1 was originally dictated to a human author (as God dictated Leviticus to Moses), that author rephrased it in the third person.
Second, it might be that Genesis 1 came about indirectly through Divine inspiration, as the Psalms, for instance, came about. In this case, the human author would be reflecting on God and creation and would be moved by insight into composing this narrative. This, however, seems quite unlikely. After all, what information would the human author have to reflect upon?
Third, and this seems most likely to me, God revealed these things to a human author, who then, under inspiration, wrote up the matter in this form. It may well be (and probably is the case) that God told all this to Adam, who passed it on in documents to his heirs, through Noah, to whoever wrote up the final version that we have in Genesis.
(By way of parenthesis, we have to question the notion of some "oral tradition" from Adam forward. Human memory is quite selective, and that is why some form of writing has always accompanied human endeavor. Written language is for the purpose of memorializing, and functions differently from oral language. God both speaks and writes, as He wrote the Ten Words, and so we can be pretty sure that Adam — His image — wrote as well as spoke.)
Now, who was the human author of Genesis 1, and when was it written? It is usually assumed that Moses wrote Genesis, but the Bible never says this, and there is no particular reason to think Moses was the author. To put it another way, all the arguments for Mosaic authorship are purely circular; to wit, some parts of Genesis lay the foundation for Exodus, something that would be true whether Moses wrote it or not. My own best guess is that Joseph wrote Genesis in its definitive form (requiring only a few additional notes from Moses and Samuel), so that Genesis was the Bible that the Hebrews had with them while they were in Egypt.
It is important to reflect on this question because there are many commentators on Genesis 1 who try and explain various parts of the passage against the background of Moses’ experiences and education in Egypt. Supposedly, for instance, in Genesis 1 Moses is providing a reply to the cosmological notions of the Egyptians. Such an assumption is wholly gratuitous, and is a dangerous red herring drawn across the path of the interpreter, diverting him from paying close attention to what the text actually states.
With these things in the back of our minds, let us now turn briefly to what Genesis 1 does say.
Heaven and Earth.
The creation narrative describes God’s making the world over the course of a week. God’s work is cosmic and covenantal. The language in Genesis 1 is used in covenant-making events later on in the Bible, and some have noted this and then asserted that Genesis 1 is concerned with covenantal ordering, not with cosmic ordering. But the only cosmos that exists is God’s covenantal cosmos, so any attempt to pit covenant against cosmos is unwarranted. Indeed, any such attempt moves in the direction of gnosticism and "heilsgeschichte," the modern gnostic notion that God’s "salvation history" operates outside the realm of spatio-temporal cosmic history.
Sometimes it is argued that either the first statement of the narrative, or else the first two verses, are an introduction and are not part of the seven days. I fail to see how one can argue one way or another grammatically with any certainty, and it makes no difference to the chronology in any event. If God created the heavens and the earth, with the earth unstructured, empty, and dark, and left it that way for a trillion years — so what? What does it matter? Indeed, what would be the point? We should note, however, that the darkness of the original condition is directly related to the light-making work of the first day, which certainly implies that all of this was the work of the first day. Not having any sound reason for separating verses 1 & 2 from the first day, we shall consider them as part of it. After all, since the first day is the FIRST day, clearly it is also the introductory day.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. He created two things, not one. These two things are, by implication, related to one another, linked in some way. Later this will be spelled out. For now, we notice two things that are linked: a covenantal structure.
The earth as it was made was good, of course, but not yet developed. It lacked structure, was empty, and was dark. Nothing like this is said of heaven. Indeed, it is clear from the rest of the Bible that heaven was made structured, full, and bright from the beginning. The angelic host does not multiply, and so new angels do not appear in the process of time. Humanity was created as a race that matures into a host, while the angels were created as a host from the beginning.
The earth matures in a way that heaven does not. Heaven is thus the model or paradigm for the earth. The earth is to grow more and more heaven-like. In the rest of the Bible, when heaven opens, men see the models they are to reproduce on the earth, as when Moses was shown the model for the tabernacle.
Right away we notice something that has somehow escaped the notice of virtually all commentators, which is that the earth must mature in three areas, not just in two. Genesis 1 is not concerned only with structuring and filling, but also with light.
The original earth had three zones: the earth below the waters, the waters, and a space of darkness over the waters. Above these, and not yet separated by any barrier, was the heaven. These four zones correspond to the four elements, the four states of matter:
Heaven fire energy
Air air gas
Water water liquid
Earth earth solid
Assuming that God created this configuration at the beginning of Day 1, in the evening that precedes the morning, we find on the second half of this day that He makes light. This would have been in the morning of that day.
Verse 2 presents two things over the earth:
Darkness was over the face of the unstructured deep, and
The Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Thus, the Spirit had been inserted into the earthly realm from the heavenly realm, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Then God said, "Let there be light." The only source for that light is the Spirit Himself. When God appears later on in the Bible, He is surrounded by the glory, which is associated with the Spirit. Indeed, His glory hovers over Israel in the pillar of cloud & fire. Thus, the initial light came from the Spirit. Light is energy, fire; and so now fire is brought into the earth from heaven. This begins the transfiguration of the earth, from glory to glory.
Confirmation of the idea that the Spirit is the light-bearer at this point comes from Psalm 104 if confirmation is even needed. Psalm 104 is a reflective commentary on Genesis 1, and proceeds through the seven days in order. The first day is discussed in the first four lines (vv. 1-2a). There God is said to cover Himself with light as with a cloak. Thus, the Psalmist understood the light of the first day as a light from God.
If we think of this configuration in terms of a flat earth — which we may certainly do since that is how we experience the earth — we see it as a four-deck universe. Nothing in the passage, however, excludes also seeing an earthly sphere, covered with water, covered again with airy space, and surrounded by heaven. The passage can be read equally well either way.
We conclude by noting that the insertion of the Spirit of God into earthly life is the way God always renews and reinitiates His covenant. Compare the glory moving into the tabernacle in Exodus 40, and into the Temple in the days of Solomon, and into believers in the New Covenant.
On the second day God created the "firmament" and separated waters above and below it, and called it "heaven." If the first day took care of the darkness problem, the second day begins to take care of the unstructuredness problem. God does not call the work good, however, until the mid-point of the third day, when the separation of land and sea completes the structuring work. We may ask why God did not do both structuring works on the second day. At least part of the answer is so that the third day is chiastically related to the fifth, so that land and sea are answered by the creatures of land and sea.
Structure seems to be related to water here. The word we have translated "unstructured" is in Hebrew "tohu," and the word for the "deep" (which we rendered "unstructured deep") in Genesis 1:2 is "t-hom" — apparently the same root word. Thus, the unstructured nature of the primeval creation is primarily associated with the waters over the earth, and when those waters have been structured, then the problem is solved. (Compare also in Genesis 2, where the four rivers that flow from the Edenic plateau structure the lands of the rest of the world.)
[The relationship between "tohu" and "t-hom" is obvious to the ear and to the eye, yet scholars have ascribed them to two different semitic roots. Even if this dubious attempt to separate these two terms be correct, they are clearly related by "pun" here in Genesis 1. Not only so, but in Genesis 1 it is precisely the "t-hom" that is "tohu" and that needs to be separated and structured. I must add that it is sometimes argued that "tohu" does not mean "unstructured" but "empty," and thus is a synonym for "bohu," "empty." Though there is evidence that might lead to this conclusion, it is trumped by the fact that in Genesis 1 there are three basic actions: lightening, forming, and filling, and these naturally related to the dark, "tohu," and "bohu" primordial conditions.]
This enables us to correlate the three zones of the earthly creation with the three problems and solutions:
We now have a heaven within the original earth. The fact that this firmament is called "heaven" means that it is an image of the original heaven. Being above the waters, it is in the same place as the light. As we observe the flow of events here, it seems pretty clear that the original glory-light of the first day is now expanded to form the firmament, a realm of light over the waters below. Later, the light of the firmament will be congealed into sun, moon, and stars, which give great light during the day and less light during the night.
The word "firmament" (raqia) is used for a beaten out, flat surface, like a shell or a tent over the earth. There is nothing mythological about this, for that is how the sky actually looks. A full examination of this place called the firmament, however, will show that it is also a chamber between heaven and earth. In Genesis 2, as we saw in an earlier essay, the Garden of Eden located between the higher ground of the Land of Eden and the lower ground of the world, is a replica of the firmament. Moreover, the chiastic structure of the seven days of creation establishes that man, made on the sixth day, is positioned in the firmament. Man is located between heaven and earth, under God but over the world. In that place, man worships God, and from that place he goes out to exercise dominion. The firmament chamber corresponds to the glory-cloud of God when it appears within the earthly cosmos, and to the Holy Place of the tabernacle and temple. Thus, the holy place contained a seven-lighted lampstand, positioned with the lights leading from the earth (courtyard) to the highest heavens (holy of holies), displaying the seven moving lights of the sky (in order: Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun (central), Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).
The firmament, considered as a shell, separates heaven and earth for the first time. There is now a barrier between them, and this points to eschatology, for it is implied that when the earth has fully matured the barrier will be removed. This barrier is replicated in the triple veils of the tabernacle and temple, which put a barrier between the symbolic heavens and earth, and which are removed at the crucifixion of Jesus — pointing to the complete removal of this barrier at the end of history.
Covenantally, we see God separating one thing (the sea) into two things, and then putting them into a new relation with one another. This act of separation happens whenever a covenant is made. In Genesis 2, God separates Eve from Adam, and marries them. In Genesis 15, God separates animals, representing Abram and the land as two estranged parties, which He then links by moving His Spirit between them. In the sacrifices, the animal is always cut into pieces, or else the blood is separated from the flesh.
Cosmically, the picture becomes a bit more complicated. From a phenomenological flat-earth perspective, we just have a sky above the earth, with heaven above it. We act in terms of this picture whenever we look up to God, lifting our faces toward the heavens.
In terms of the physical cosmos there are two aspects to discuss. First, the Bible is clear that heaven is now in another "dimension" from the earth. When heaven is opened, or when God appears, it always turns out to be very near, as in the vision of Isaiah 6. Thus, we cannot reach the highest heaven by means of a spaceship, as we might have on the first day before the firmament was established. The idea that the Biblical revelation is "unsophisticated" in this regard is unwarranted, as we have just seen. The ancient people were well aware that heaven was not physically or geographically located on the other side of the visible sky. They all knew that their gods’ heaven was "near" as well as "far away."
Additionally, there is now the firmament chamber, perhaps another "dimension" between heaven and earth. From later passages in the Bible, it seems that the departed saints resided here while they waited for heaven to be opened when the Man Jesus Christ would ascend to the throne of God and they would be allowed to accompany Him fully inside. The evacuation of that firmament chamber, as described in Revelation 6:9-11; 15:2 & 8; and 20:4, raises the possibility that it no longer exists today. God’s people no longer worship Him in a place between heaven and earth, but in Christ are now in heaven itself when they draw near to God. Recall that man, made on the sixth day, is symbolically positioned in the firmament at the beginning. Similarly, he is positioned in the Garden of Eden between Eden and the world. In Christ, however, we have moved up into heaven itself, into the Land of Eden. It would seem that the firmament, as a symbolic zone, and as the place of departed spirits, is gone.
At the same time, stars are "in" the firmament, while birds fly "in front of" it (vv. 14 & 20). In this sense, the firmament is outer space, the matrix of light. Cosmologically, the firmament is the place where the stars will be put in two days. We shall defer further comments on the cosmological aspect of the matter until we get to the fourth day.
The waters above the firmament are in heaven itself, on the far side of the firmament. They are not clouds, nor are they a water-vapor canopy over the earth. If such a canopy existed, the Bible does not speak about it; such theories must be grounded in other lines of evidence and argument. The waters below the firmament include the clouds, which recycle the waters below, continually baptizing and cleansing the earth through rain.
God reached down into the earth and took some of the water up into heaven. This is an eschatological picture. It differentiates not only between lower and upper waters, but between first and last waters. The first waters covering the earth were an initial baptism, while being sprinkled with waters from above is the sign of our final baptism. We begin on earth, with earthly waters; we enter the final kingdom of God by passing through heavenly waters. Agreeable to this, the laver of cleansing in the tabernacle and the great sea and laver-chariots of the Temple were all mounted on pedestals, and thus represented the waters above. The sea of glass, crystal, ice that is seen in visions of heaven in Ezekiel and Revelation is the water taken into heaven on the second day.
Psalm 104:2b-4 comments on the second day as follows. We are told that God stretched out the firmament heaven like a curtain. Then we are told that God’s upper chambers (His palace) is built upon the waters above the firmament. Then the psalmist refers to clouds and the wind, and to fire. It seems that the firmament can be considered as including these lower phenomena in the atmosphere, though possibly "fire" here refers to the lights in the sky (in outer space).
(to be continued)