Chris Brady has started a series on the creation narratives of the book of Genesis. His first post is here. My, he writes well. In this post, I interact with some of his points.
Genesis 1:1-2 describe realities pre-existent to God’s beginning to create the heavens and the earth, to wit: a formless earth; darkness, and the abyss. Albeit in the background, it is “the spirit of God” (at least, that is how I understand the relevant Hebrew), not the word of God, that initiates a process described in terms that suggest a mother-bird bringing an egg to hatch. The imagery does not scream out at the reader, but I think it’s there. Here is Gen 1:1-3 and a translation:
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ
וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם
וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר
began to create sky and land,
and the land was welter and waste,
with darkness on the surface of the deep
and the spirit of God hovering over the water’s surface,
God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light.
It’s complicated syntax - like that at the beginning of Enuma Elish, and like that of Gen 2:4b-7. Before EE was discovered, ibn Ezra and other medieval exegetes understood the syntax of Gen 1:1-3 along the above lines.
On this understanding of Genesis 1:1-3, something of the process of divine creation is described. God is, at least implicitly, a faber who works with pre-existing materials. Furthermore, the description of water as pre-existing and not created in 1:2 is the narrative presupposition in 1:6.
The above is not in necessary contradiction with the (later, and theologically correct) claim that God created all that is ex nihilo - from nothing. It is outside the scope of Gen 1 to take up that particular issue. As it is outside the scope of the same passage to say anything about when, how, and why “the sons of Elohim” came into existence.
How scientific is Genesis 1? In comparison to the presentation of Gen 2:4b and following, I think it does have scientific pretensions – by science, of course, I mean the closest thing to it that existed in ancient times. That is, Gen 1:1-2:4a is, over against EE , other rival accounts of the day, and Gen 2:4b-2:24, demythologizing in more than one sense. No time to go into detail, but I will note this: relative to the rival accounts, and the Chaoskampf myth of creation attested in Scripture (a myth meant to express truth of the highest order, I would add), Gen 1 disenchants the cosmos. For that reason alone, it may be described as proto-scientific in outlook.
None of the above if true does away with the points Chris makes. For example, harmonistic exegesis of Gen 1 relative to modern science has clear limits. Furthermore, in Gen 1:1-3 and throughout the account, the emphasis is on fiat as God’s method of creation, just as Chris emphasizes. Even if creation by fiat is not to be construed unilaterally so as to exclude the idea of God as faber who makes things as a craftsman would.