Houston Graduate School of Theology

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Creation amid Chaos

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

(#2 in the Creation Accounts series)

Comparing the beginning of Genesis creation accounts surfaces the same grammatical structure: a summary of creation, followed by three circumstantial clauses (Gen 1:1–2; 2:4–6). The summary is not a separate event from the whole of the creation account, so it could be viewed as introducing the account that follows. This summary is followed by circumstantial clauses exploring the attending circumstance of lack within which the creation makes sense. The fact that these circumstantial clauses of Genesis 1:2 and 2:5–6 depend on the main verb of the overview statement (Gen 1:1 or 2:4) clarifies that grammatically there is no temporal gap or events between these textual statements. Therefore, for grammatical reasons, a “no gap” theory fits the biblical text.

There is no existing creation before the summary statement of Genesis 1:1. This summary creation event begins with the first two words connected together by the alliteration of BRA sound in the words “In the beginning” and “created.” Or as Young develops, “This is a beginning that is characterized by creation, and this is a creation that is characterized by the beginning.  Here it means ‘the absolute beginning!’” (In the Beginning, 24). There is no history or creation before Genesis 1:1. 

The word created (bārā’) is an activity of God alone; it is never used of man. The result is always a definitive creation, something new and fresh. Within the summary of the creation, “the heavens and earth” is a merism of opposites presenting God as the creator of all (Gen 1:1).

A number of chaos metaphors are developed in the conditional clauses that set a conceptual framework in order to bring out the creation order. For example, the concepts of formless (tōhû) and void (bōhû) signify chaos and lack of order, as in a desert waste (Deut 32:10; Job 6:18) or after a devastating judgment (Jer 4:23–26; Isa 34:11). Perhaps the form of God’s creation is given through God’s activity of the first four days (“separation” ybdl indicating structure, Gen 1:4, 7, 14, 18) and then God fills the creation in days three through six. However, in Genesis 1:2, “formless and void” operate as a hendiadys (two independent words connected by “and”) for “amorphous chaos.” Additionally, darkness is symbolic of evil and vulnerability throughout the Bible (Ex 10:21–22; 14:20). However, in this context, darkness is merely part of the designed time of day without light (Gen 1:4–5, 18). The watery deep (thm) is not conducive to life and represents the abyss which drowns Egypt, Tyre, and everyone in the flood when it is released by God to fight sin with chaos flood (Gen 7:11; 8:2; Ex 15:5, 8; Ezek 26:19). God’s way of deliverance for Israel was to pass through this deep on dry ground in the midst of the exodus unto kingdom (Ps 106:9; Isa 51:10; 63:13). God conquering this chaos is a polemic against the Babylonian goddess Tiamat and other mythological conceptions of the sea of chaos (yaym), which is occupied by the monsters of chaos (Leviathan and Rahab). None of the OT instances of thm contain any hint of personification, so they are no rival to God (Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 104–6). There is no risk to God from the deep for it is simply remade into the sea out of which blessing may come (Gen 49:25). 

The “ruh of Elohim” could join the chaos metaphors as a chaotic “wind” from God (Isa 11:4; 30:28) without the battle imagery of Marduks use of the chaos wind to defeat Tiamat (Enumah Elish 1:105-110), but “Elohim” is presented in Genesis 1 as God Himself Who we do not see but His effect is seen through the creation. So it is best to take this reference as the monotheistic “Divine Spirit” involved in creation, rather than a reference to a Trinitarian person. So God as Spirit hovers like a mother bird over creation with such movements as to cause her brood, the creation, to take flight (Deut 32:11); God has intimate contact with the creation to bring forth order. Waltke develops that there is no restrainer of the chaos as in the ancient Near Eastern myths, and there is no threat or rival to God; the monotheistic God creates utilizing these chaos metaphors.

 The Spirit of God does not contend with a living, hostile, chaotic force but hovers over the primordial mass awaiting the appropriate time for history to begin. How can the chaos be hostile when it is not living but inanimate? It can only be shaped according to the will of the Creator (Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 48).

 Without a clear understanding of God’s trajectory of creation, it is easy to misunderstand the universe around us as well as ourselves—since we too are part of creation.

Dr. Becky Towne