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Elohim, the God of Creation

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By Dr. Doug Kennard, Professor of Christian Scripture, Houston Graduate School of Theology

The Bible begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. It is important to understand how the God of the Bible reigns far above the gods of other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts. The term ’el means “god,” implying power and authority. In Genesis, it is used to describe a profoundly powerful God in contrast to the other cosmologies of the ancient Near East. So the effective power and authority to create swiftly and effortlessly helps to inform the grandeur of this God.

Many suggest that the plural, elohim, extends these conceptions of power, authority, and majesty. For example, Eichrodt developed elohim as overwhelming monotheism. “The epitome of all embracing divine power excludes all other divinity; he was able to protect his cosmology from any trace of polytheistic thought and at the same time describe the creator God as the absolute Ruler and the only Being whose will carries any weight (Old Testament Theology 1:186–7). Isaiah developed that elohim is the only creator of the universe; there is no other creator but God (Isa 42:5–9).

Such a God reference is better understood in this Mosaic context as a monotheistic God (Deut 6:4), who, as the creator, creates so effectively that the plural is best taken as a plural of majesty. This plurality of majesty may be viewed as carrying over into the pronouns that are used in grammatical agreement with Elohim like the ‘Us’ and ‘Our’ of Gen 1:26 and 3:22. The plural pronouns may function as a royal “we” to facilitate the narrative. Perhaps the abundance of singular pronouns used throughout the creation account with the plural Elohim makes a case for monotheism, affirming the Mosaic monotheistic perspective. 

Gen 1:1 – 2:3 specifically disputes the ancient Near Eastern cosmology accounts. In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the creation accounts often involve a long period of time, with deep conflicts, through which a god, who would be king, battles and destroys rival gods and forces of chaos in order to remake a new creation. Wenham summarized five areas in which the ancient Near Eastern creation accounts contain deficient gods when compared to our superior God.

1. In some Near Eastern cosmologies, dragons (tnn) are rivals whom the Canaanite gods conquer, whereas in Gen 1:21, the great sea monsters are just one kind of the aquatic animals created by God.

2. These cosmologies describe struggle of the gods to separate the upper waters from the lower waters; but Gen 1:6–10 describes the acts of separation by simple divine fiat.

3. Worship of the sun, moon, and stars was current throughout the ancient orient. Genesis pointedly avoids using the normal Hebrew words for sun and moon, lest they be taken as divine, and says that, instead, God created the greater and lesser light.

4. Babylonian tradition sees the creation of man as an afterthought, a device to relieve the gods of work and provide them with food. For Genesis, the creation of man is the goal of creation and God provides man with food.

5. Genesis shows God creating simply through his spoken word, not through magical utterance as is attested in Egypt (Genesis 1–15, 1:9).

Stuhmueller develops the unique theological entrance of this God, for He alone, among all Semitic creative gods, undergoes no birth or metamorphosis (“The Theology of Creation in Second Isaias,” CBQ 21[1959] 429–67). God is complete in Himself and He stands transcendentally apart from all that is created.

Our God is truly worthy of control because only our God truly created everything. God is presented as creating, swiftly and effortlessly, a whole creation with no threatening rivals within the creation. There is no cosmic mortal combat with the risk of God being defeated by a monster of chaos, but rather God is in His “carpenter shop” with no risk of being devoured by “his chair,” the creation. 

The Hebrew account of the origins can scarcely be anything else but a counter statement to the myth of creation....The Hebrew author enumerates all the natural forces in which deity was thought to reside, and of all of them he says simply that God made them. Consequently, he eliminates all elements of struggle on the cosmic level; the visible universe is not an uneasy balance of forces, but it is moderated by one supreme will, which imposes itself with effortless supremacy upon all that it has made. By preference the author speaks of the created work rather of the created act, because he wishes to emphasize the fact that the creative Deity, unlike Marduk, has not had to win supremacy by combat with an equal (The Two Edged Sword, 101–2).

 It is vital for students of Scripture to explore the creation account for the gems that are there, if approached with sensitivity to the ancient Near Eastern context. When approached solely from a popular view, it is easy to miss the depth that is actually present in the biblical text.

Dr. Becky Towne