Genesis 1:1, Did God Create the Universe?

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

//In the beginning. The Greek word translated “beginning” can be either a verb or a noun; either “beginning” or “began.” It’s a toss-up. Either our Bible starts with “In the Beginning, God created …” or it starts with “When God began to create …” In the first, we have creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. But in the second, when God begins to create, the formless void of the earth is already there. Creation is the act of bringing stability to chaos.

This second interpretation actually fits better with other stories of creation in the Bible. For example, the book of Job, chapter 38, describes creation as a struggle between God and the primordial forces of chaos. God overcomes and controls a monstrous personification of the formless, watery deep that existed before the world began.

Psalm 74 also envisions creation as establishing cosmic order out of chaos:

It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.
It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers.
The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon.

It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter. –Psalm 74:13-17

In Proverbs chapter 8, God has a co-creator (wisdom), and this version of creation is reflected by the prologue of John’s Gospel (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”). But, again, the creation is a matter of setting boundaries for the sea, and fixing the foundations of the earth.

By all accounts, then, we have mistranslated Genesis 1:1. God did not create the universe; he merely brought order to a chaotic existence.

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