Genesis 1:1 is most commonly viewed as an independent sentence (for example, RSV and NIV: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") rather than a temporal clause (for example, NRSV: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,…"). This opening sentence is probably to be interpreted as a summary of the chapter rather than the first creative act. This seems likely in view of the fact that Genesis 1 is a genealogy (2:4) and most other genealogies in Genesis 1-11 begin with a summary statement (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10).
The word "beginning" probably refers not to the absolute beginning of all things, but to the beginning of the ordered creation, including the temporal order. The author does not deny that God created all things, but that is not the interest of this chapter. God works here with "raw material" that already exists (1:2). The Spirit/wind/breath of God "moving" over the face of the waters suggests something with an ever-changing velocity and direction; this gives a dynamic rather than a static sense to the creative process.
The verbs "create" and "make" are used interchangeably in Genesis 1 (for example, 1:26-27).
The use of the everyday word "make" suggests that God's activity is not thought to be without analogy in the human sphere. At the same time, the use of the verb "create" (which is never used in the Old Testament for human creating) shows that no analogy drawn from the human sphere can exhaust the meaning of God's creative activity. The verb is used, however, for already existing realities that God re-creates or transforms (Psalm 51:10; 102:18; Isaiah 41:20; 65:18). The verb may thus be used to stress God's initiative and decisive activity.
Much variety is evident regarding the divine modes of creation. Primarily, God creates by means of the word (for example, 1:9), sometimes followed by deeds of separation and other creative actions. God speaks with others and invites their participation in the creative process (divine beings, 1:26; earth and waters, 1:11-12, 20, 24). God uses that which is already created as raw material to bring still other creatures into being (for example, 2:7-8, 19, 22). God brings order to that which is already created (the earth, 1:2, 9). God creates some creatures out of nothing (1:14-16). This variety testifies to the complexities associated with God's creative activity; God does not have available just one way of bringing the creation into being.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011