The Creation" A Lecture on Genesis 1-2: Six Days

Genesis 1  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
A Lecture on Gen. 1-2
There is another fact also on which I would just desire to say a word – the remarkable precision of the terms that the Spirit of God has used on this subject. Hebrew is not by any means a copious language, but is comparatively poor. It is not at all equal to our own in possessing shades of synonym; but for all that it is worthy of note that, as to the matter now in hand, which was to be conveyed by revelation to man, the language that the Holy Spirit first employed has materials which, for precision, as far as I know, are found in none other. Consider how the terms which we translate “creating,” “making” “forming” or “fashioning,” here and elsewhere, are used – with what force and appropriateness – in the Word of God.
It may help to put this in a clear light before those ignorant of it if we turn to Exodus 20, which, perhaps, may be in the minds of some as bearing out the common notion that the earth was created in six days. In Exodus 20:1111For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:11) it is written, “In six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.” No doubt a great many people, in the habit of hearing this, have confounded it with the opening words of Genesis 1. But there is a marked difference, instead of any such confusion. If scripture said that Jehovah created heaven and earth in six days, there would be reasonable ground for the thought. Nowhere is such an assertion to be found in the Word of God. What we do find is the creation of heaven and earth in the beginning; but when you come to the six days, it is the making of heaven and earth. So manifest is the difference at once. “Create” if we are to distinguish the words, refers to the efficient cause; “make” points to the formal cause; and they have another word which brings in the material.
It is very evident, therefore, that Hebrew – poor a language as it may be in some respects – is exquisitely precise in these very particulars. No doubt the reason is obvious. It was God’s pleasure to reveal His mind as to the outward creation in the Hebrew tongue. And what makes it the more striking is, that Greek – which is such a finely expressive language in most other respects – seems to fail not a little in this. They had no words at all competent to express these shades of meaning. They were driven to other ways of putting the idea. There is always a possibility in every tongue of expressing thought; but this may, in some cases, require a circuitous method. In John 1:33All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3) we have creation alluded to. In the first verse we read: “In the beginning was the Word” – clearly this ascends, as often noticed, before Genesis 1:11In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1). In the one beginning God acted; in the other the Word was, the uncreated expresser of God, before His power was put forth to call anything or one into being – the Word that was with God, and that was God. “The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him.” There is a beautiful exactness in the Greek expression, that is not found in the English, and is not adequately answered either by the Hebrew or the English “made.” Properly speaking, it does not mean anything of the sort, but “caused to be.” The Word gave to all things existence. This seems to be the best Greek method of expressing creation, if it can be expressed in that tongue by one word. “All things were brought into being by Him; they began” – or, rather, “were caused to be” – “by Him.” Such is the force of the term. But this does not at all match the admirable excellence of the Hebrew tongue, where we have God’s own absolute act referred to. Such is the essence of the word create, and consequently it is invariably attributed to God. We never read of any created being of whom it is predicated, unless in a figure or evident accommodation. It could not be applied to the act of a creature. Not that it always means created out of nothing. It is the word for this, but not for this only. Hence it is applied to the fifth day’s work – the first production of animal life for the Adamic world (Gen. 1:2121And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:21)), and still more emphatically to the latest task of the sixth day, when God gave being to the chief of this lower creation (Gen. 1:2727So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27)). We ought always to gather the value of a word from its usage; to the use that scripture makes of it we may wisely, and must implicitly, bow.
Thus, without going farther, this very chapter of Genesis shows that, while the word here translated create is proper to describe God’s origination of being where there was none before, at the same time it may express a particular act of God’s will where there existed materials of which God made use. For instance, where He created the sea-animals, and where He created man in the image of God, it is evident that in neither case does it mean without pre-existent materials. Here we know from the account that such there were. The statements of Scripture are inconsistent, therefore, with the notion that the word create invariably means creating out of nothing. At the same time, while this modification of the word’s meaning is allowed, it remains true that, if God would express creation in its full import where there was nothing before, this is the word and none other. Where is the word besides so admirably suited to convey it?
If some suppose it a defect that the same word is used with such shades of difference, let me tell them that their objection makes a demand on Hebrew which is not met by any other language – which, if it could be met, would involve mere barbarism even if practicable to be remembered and used; in fact, there is no language where words do not express varieties of meaning. If the most precise of tongues did not admit of some modification in the use of its terms, such a catalog would be an intolerable burden. If one were bound to use a new word for every new thought, how cumbrous would human speech become! Man would sink under the weight of that he had to carry in his mind, and utter in its proper time and place. But enough of this, which I merely notice to guard the unreflecting from a common misapprehension.
When God, then, expresses not the first origination of the universe, but the constituting of the earth an abode for man, we find the plain fact, that in the six days Jehovah, the God of Israel, is said to have made all things (according to the fourth commandment, which views the whole scene as we have it now, not as primarily created). Accordingly, after the Spirit of God has been brought in as moving upon the face of the waters, we are shown in the six days’ work the making of the earth for man as formed by the hand of God here below.
(To be continued.)