|The Book of Genesis|
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Go to Bible: Genesis 1
“In the beginning.” The word “the” is not in the Hebrew text, so that leaves Genesis 1:1 open for some debate about how the verse should be translated and what it means. The absence of the definite article, along with the different ways some of the words can be structured or translated has given rise to a few different ways of translating—and ways of understanding—Genesis 1:1. These include, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (KJV; ESV); “When God began to create the heavens and the earth” (CEB); “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth” (Fox, The Schocken Bible).
“In the beginning God.” The first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God….” The word “God” is translated from the Hebrew word elohim (#0430 אֱלֹהִים), and it refers to our one God.
The word elohim is always found in the plural form and is often called a uni-plural noun. A uni-plural noun is a word that appears in the plural form but is used for singular and plural subjects alike. “Deer” and “fish” are examples of uni-plural nouns in English. As with many Hebrew words, elohim carries more than one definition. When it is being used in a plural sense, it refers to “gods” or “men with authority.” When it is used in its singular sense, it can refer to “God,” or “a god,” or “a man with authority, such as a judge.” The Hebrew lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs is considered to be one of the best available and it has as its first usage for elohim: “rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power, divine ones, superhuman beings including God and angels, gods.a”
In referring to a plural subject, elohim is translated “gods” in many verses. Genesis 35:2 reads, “Get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you,” and Exodus 18:11 says, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods.” It is translated as “judges” in Exodus 21:6; 22:8 and 22:9 (KJV; HCSB; NET; NIV). It is translated as “angels” (KJV) or “heavenly beings” (NIV) in Psalm 8:5. Some Trinitarians teach that since the word elohim is plural it implies a compound unity when it refers to God. However, in its plural use, there is no evidence that elohim implied that these “gods” had some kind of plurality of persons within themselves.
Elohim is also translated as the singular “god” or “judge,” and there is no hint of any “compound nature” when it is translated that way either. Examples of this use are: Exodus 22:20, “Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the lord must be destroyed.” Judges 6:31: “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” Exodus 7:1: God says that He has made Moses a “god” (elohim) to Pharaoh. In Judges 11:24, the pagan god Chemosh is called elohim, and in 1 Samuel 5:7, the pagan god Dagon is called elohim. It is not taught or believed that these pagan gods were made of some kind of “compound unity” just because they were called elohim, and we should not conclude that because our true God is called elohim that He is a compound unity. He is not.
Scholars have debated exactly how to translate elohim in 1 Samuel 2:25 as to whether elohim in the verse refers to a human judge or to God. The KJV says “judge.” The versions are divided between them, some translating elohim as a man, others as God Himself. The fact that the scholars and translators debate about whether the word elohim refers to a man or God shows vividly that the word itself does not have any inherent idea of a plurality of persons otherwise the choice would be easy and elohim could not be translated as “god” when referring to a pagan god, or as “judge” when referring to a man. Thus, the evidence in Scripture does not warrant the conclusion that the Hebrew word elohim inherently contains the idea of a compound nature.
The great Hebrew scholar Gesenius is considered a foremost authority on the Hebrew language, and He wrote that elohim occurred in a plural form for intensification and was related to the plural of majesty and used for amplification. Gesenius states, “That the language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical plurality in elohim (whenever it denotes one God) is proved especially by its being almost invariably joined with a singular attribute.”b
Another interesting point that Gesenius makes is that the singular pronoun is always used with the word elohim. A study of the occurrences of elohim will show that the singular attribute (such as “He,” not “They,” or “I,” not “We”) is always used in conjunction with elohim. Furthermore, when the word elohim is used to denote someone else besides the true God, it is understood as either singular or plural (depending on the context), but never as a “uniplural.” God is not a “compound” being in any sense of the word. He is the “one God” of Israel in the true singular sense. Another example of elohim being used of a singular god apparently occurs in Ruth 1:15, where elohim refers to Chemosh. The NET text note on Ruth 1:15 says, “it is likely that Naomi, speaking from Orpah's Moabite perspective, uses the plural of majesty of the Moabite god Chemosh. For examples of the plural of majesty being used of a pagan god, see BDB 43 s.v. אֱלֹהִים 1.d. Note especially 1 Kings 11:33, where the plural form is used of Chemosh.” Many scholars agree with this, and elohim is translated “god” in a large number of versions (cp. ASV; CJB; ERV; JPS; NAB: NET; NJB; YLT).
In addition, when we study the history and the language of the Jews who spoke Hebrew, we discover that they never understood elohim to imply a plurality within God in any way. In fact, the Jews were staunchly opposed to people and nations who tried to introduce any hint of more than one God into their culture. Jewish rabbis have debated the Law to the point of tedium, and have recorded volume after volume of notes on the Law, yet in all of their debates, there is no mention of a plurality within God.
[For more on the grammatical plural being used of God and other people, see commentary on 1 Kings 1:43. For more information on elohim not referring to a “God in three persons,” see Appendix 6: “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son,” and see Appendix 7: “What is the Holy Spirit?” Also see Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, One God and One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, 412-14.]
“God created the heavens and the earth.” Although there are scholars who translate Genesis 1:1 as saying something to the effect that “God began creating the heavens and the earth,” there is more circumstantial evidence from the nature of God that He would have created everything perfect in the beginning—He certainly has the power to do that. Then, due to the war between God and Satan, the earth became without form and void (see commentary on Gen. 1:2).
“And the earth.” There seems to be much evidence for a much younger universe (and earth) than secular scientists believe. The Universe could be even in the range of thousands of years old, not billions or even millions.
However, it seems to make the most sense that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3, in which the world becomes without form and void, or, as the Hebrew says, tohu va bohu. E. W. Bullinger in The Companion Bible does a good job in showing that the world “became” without form and void.
Also, it is very important to take into account that Isaiah 45:18 says God did not create the world tohu. If He did not create it that way, and it became that way, then something happened to make it so. There is some evidence that “something” was the rebellion of Satan (Isa. 14; Ezek. 28). In Genesis 3, Satan is already against God. If Satan did not fall between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and there is a 6-day creation as many now teach, then he had to fall while Adam and Eve were in the Garden. That seems untenable. It seems it would have taken many years for the pride to so build in Satan’s heart that he would consider rebelling against God, and even more years for him to convince a third of the angels to join him.
It seems that history could have played out like Bullinger and others suggest, that after God created the heavens and the earth, in the following many years potentially allowed for in Genesis 1:1 before things became without form, there was plenty of time for pride to grow in Satan’s heart and a rebellion form. Then, that rebellion would be a clash of great powers, enough to disturb the earth and make it without form and void. It certainly seems that such a clash of titanic powers could have caused the devastation spoken of in Genesis 1:2, and that devastation is also a reason that it is unlikely that the fall of Satan could have occurred after Adam and Eve were created and they were in the Garden of Eden.
Taking all the evidence together, a very likely possibility of what happened is that there was the time of Genesis 1:1 when God created the universe and the angels. We do not know exactly how long ago that was, but even 20,000 years is long enough. Then pride grew in Satan’s heart and he convinced a third of God’s angels to join him in rebelling against God. There was a war in which the earth “became” without form and void, a time when God’s creation, which was not originally without form and void, became that way. Then God began to put things back in order by speaking order into the universe.
One book that covers the subject in much detail is Without Form and Void by Arthur Custance. Custance points out that the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1 can be translated: “In a former state God created the heavens and the earth.” The entire book is on the opening verses of Genesis. As of this writing, this book may be found on the internet here.
Another book that had some insights was God at War by Greg Boyd. This book is not about Genesis, but contains evidence for the gap from his studies and from ancient myths which portray a great war between cosmic powers that destroy the earth.
“was formless and empty.” From the scope of Scripture, this could also be translated as “became formless and empty,” and there is evidence that that is exactly what happened.
“the spirit of God.” The “spirit of God” is God Himself, it is a way of describing God in action; His active power and presence. The Hebrew word translated “spirit” is ruach (#07307 רוּחַ), a feminine noun, and it can refer to a large number of things. The “spirit of God” in this context is not separate from God Himself, but is a way of speaking about His power in action. The phrase, “And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” is difficult to interpret, and it is easier to get a “big picture” of what is going on than a specific interpretation. This is due in part to the broad range of meanings of “spirit” and even “spirit of God.” It is important in the study of God’s Word to become familiar with the large semantic range of ruach because it includes things such as God in motion; wind; breath; the gift of holy spirit God put upon some people in the Old Testament; good spirit beings, evil spirit beings, the natural life of our fleshly bodies that is sometimes referred to as “soul;” the life force that will animate resurrected bodies in the future; and the activities of the mind including people’s thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
Here in Genesis 1, there are at least three main possible meanings that make sense in the larger scope of the Word. One is “the spirit of God” is used as a designation of God in action, i.e., God was acting, brooding, moving, hovering over, the waters, preparing to bring forth the earth as we know it.
Another meaning is the “wind of God” (cp. NAB; NJB; NRSV), and according to that use of ruach, God’s wind was moving on the face of the deep, again giving us the picture of God moving and about to bring forth the earth as we know it. The idea of God’s wind gets support from the records in which the wind of God helped accomplish God’s purposes, such as when a great wind parted the Sea during the Exodus and Israel crossed the Sea on dry land. Also, in Hebrew, the “wind of God” can mean a “mighty wind,” but that idea has less scholarly support.
Still a third possible translation would be that the “breath of God” was moving over the waters. That translation is supported by God’s then speaking the earth as we know it into being. In that scenario, God was breathing over the waters, as if studying them, and then He spoke and brought the earth as we know it into being. Sometimes “the spirit of God” and the “breath of God” are basically used as synonyms. For example, Job saw “the spirit of God” and “the breath of God” as the same thing when it came to bringing him into being: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).
While scholars hotly debate the “correct meaning” of ruach in Genesis 1:2, it might not ever be possible to be absolutely certain which meaning God intended. In fact, it is likely that God did not have one specific meaning in mind but rather wrote in a way that revealed His loving attention to His creation. Genesis 1:2 could apply to God being in action, and His breath, and His wind moving over the face of the watery deep in preparation for His acts to come. One thing that can be learned from all three of these possible meanings is that God was moving and preparing to bring the earth as we know it out of the chaos of Genesis 1:2.
[For more on the usages of ruach, spirit, see Appendix 15: “Usages of ‘Spirit.’” For more on “the spirit of God, see Appendix 7: “What is the Holy Spirit?”]
“hovering.” The Hebrew word is rachap (#07363 רָחַף), a feminine verb agreeing with the word “spirit,” which is a feminine noun in Hebrew. and here rachap means “to hover” with the implication of brooding over and cherishing. Some scholars and translators prefer the translation “moving.”(top)
|Gen 1:3||- (top)|
“And God saw the light, that it was good.” That the created world that God made was “good” was a sharp contrast between what God revealed to the Jews and what many ancient cultures felt about the world, that it was evil, tainted.(top)
“And God called.” The Hebrew can be translated as, “And God named” the light “Day.”
“one day.” The Hebrew is literally, “one day.” Although many versions have “the first day,” that is not the Hebrew text.(top)
|Gen 1:6||- (top)|
|Gen 1:7||- (top)|
|Gen 1:8||- (top)|
|Gen 1:9||- (top)|
|Gen 1:10||- (top)|
“fruit trees of every kind on the earth.” The emphasis of the text is that God made many different kinds of vegetation (Gen. 1:11-12) and many different kinds of animals (Gen. 1:24-25) on earth.
It has been a long-believed tradition that Genesis 1:11-12 and 1:24-25, are setting forth the fact that plants and animals reproduce “after their kind” (ASV; KJV), or “according to their kind” (cp. CEB; CSB; ESV; NASB; NET; NIV; RSV). That belief, and the translation that supported it, has been a helpful support for Christians who believe in special creation and not evolution. If plants and animals reproduce according to their kind, then evolution did not occur. However, that traditional understanding of the text is not the meaning of the text. While there is scientific evidence that evolution did not occur, Genesis 1:11, 13, 21, 24, and 1:25 do not contribute to that debate the way most modern creationists think they do. They are not speaking about the fact that animals reproduce after their kind, even though they do. These verses in Genesis are saying that all the different plants and animals were directly created by God, and God’s special and varied creation is the emphasis in the text.
God is a loving and magnificent Creator. In creating earth for humankind, He could have made life quite uninteresting, even boring. He could have made humans see everything in black and white, or He could have made only a few varieties of birds, fish, and animals—just enough to keep our bodies alive. But because of His love for humankind, He created a tremendously varied heavens and earth, and thus has made life truly pleasurable and interesting, and that is the point of these verses in Genesis. The NRSV translates Genesis 1:11 as, “Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so” (cp. CJB; JPS Tanakh 1985; NAB (revised edition)).
The same idea is found in Gen. 1:12: “The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good” (NRSV). In fact, this same idea occurs in Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, and 1:25. Evidence for this understanding of Genesis comes from Genesis chapter 1 as well as from other places in the Bible where the same basic Hebrew phrase is used, as we will see below. For example. the same idea occurs in Genesis 6:20 when God is speaking to Noah about the animals that will come to him to be taken on the ark. “Pairs of every kind” will come to Noah.
It helps to remember that at the time Moses wrote Genesis, the idea that animals and plants came about by an incredibly long period of unguided spontaneous development driven by mutation and adaptation (i.e., the modern concept of evolution) was not believed by God’s people. In fact, they would not have understood the concept even if Moses had written about it when he wrote the Torah, about 1,400 BC. It also seems clear that when William Tyndale translated Genesis from Hebrew in 1530—the first English Bible to do that—he was thinking about the great variety in God’s creation and not thinking about how things reproduced. The Tyndale Bible of Genesis 1:11 reads, “And God said: ‘Let the earth bring forth herb and grass that sow seed, and fruitful trees that bear fruit every one in his kind having their seed in themselves upon the earth.’ And it came to pass.”a
We also see the phrase that is translated in Genesis 1 as “according to their kind,” does not refer to reproduction in the other places the Hebrew phrase is used. In Genesis 6:20, when God is bringing animals to Noah, it is “every kind” of animal that comes (cp. BBE; CEB; CJB; JPS; NAB; NIV; NJB; NLT), and even in versions like the KJV or NASB that uses “according to its kind” (or “after its kind”), it is clear that the text is not talking about reproduction, but rather that the animals were brought to Noah “according to their different kinds,” that is, every distinct “kind” was brought to Noah. That is repeated in Genesis 7:14, when “every kind” of animal and bird came to Noah and got on the ark.
Leviticus 11:13-19 is another place we can see that the Hebrew phrase refers to “every kind.” God is telling the Israelites what kinds of birds are unclean to them and that they should not eat. They are not to eat birds such as the vulture, the raven, the owl, and “every kind of hawk” (Lev. 11:16). Even when the King James Version says, “and the hawk after his kind,” we can see that what the text means is every kind of hawk. The verse is not speaking of hawks reproducing more hawks.
Leviticus 11:22 continues the context about what God allowed the people to eat, and it reads, “From these you may eat: any kind of locust, any kind of katydid, any kind of cricket, and any kind of grasshopper.” The King James Version reads, “And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,” but we can see that the phrase, “the hawk after his kind” refers to every sort of hawk. We see the same thing in Deuteronomy 14:13-15 (REV), which reads, 13“and the red kite, and the falcon, and any kind of kite, 14and any kind of raven, 15and the ostrich, and the owl, and the seagull, and any kind of hawk.” Again, God is speaking about what the people can and cannot eat, so He says not to eat any kind of the birds mentioned in those verses. Leviticus 11:29 then says not to eat “any kind of large lizard,” which He then describes as “the gecko and the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink, and the chameleon” (Lev. 11:30). Ezekiel 47:10 also uses the phrase for the many different kinds of fish that will be in the river that flows from the Temple in Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom.
The Hebrew words here in Genesis 1:11 are mostly singular, but are a collective singular, so the REV and many other versions read “plants” instead of “a plant,” which makes the text easier to understand. Thus, one “plant” is representative of plants in general, all plants, etc.
“And God saw that it was good.” This is the second time on the third day that God saw something that was good. The third day is the only day out of the six when God saw “good” two times.(top)
|Gen 1:13||- (top)|
|Gen 1:14||- (top)|
|Gen 1:15||- (top)|
|Gen 1:16||- (top)|
|Gen 1:17||- (top)|
|Gen 1:18||- (top)|
“And there was evening and there was morning.” The Hebrew day started with sunset instead of midnight like our Western days do, so evening starts the day and comes first in the list.(top)
“living souls.” The Hebrew word translated as “soul” is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), and nephesh has a wide range of meanings. One of those meanings refers to the life force that animates humans, land animals, and many sea creatures. It is the “soul” animating the person or animal that makes the difference between a living person or animal and a dead one. For that reason, nephesh is also used for the “life” of a person, as in, “do not take my life,” i.e., “do not kill me.” Nephesh is also used in the sense of “individual,” both of people and animals. Therefore, it sometimes gets translated as “creature” (CJB; HCSB; ESV; KJV), because the living individuals in the sea were “sea individuals” or sea creatures. It is not well recognized in Christianity that the same life force that animates humans animates animals. In large part that is due to the fact that the word nephesh is not translated as “soul” in most English Bibles when it comes to animals. Here in Genesis 1:20, the animals were given life and became living individuals, living souls. In Genesis 2:7, Adam became a “living soul,” a living individual, just as these animals had earlier.
[For more information on “soul,” see Appendix 16: “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]
“across the expanse of the heavens.” The Hebrew is more idiomatic: “upon the face of the expanse of the heavens,” as if the earth observer is looking upward and the heavens are the backdrop to the flying birds.(top)
“living soul.” The Hebrew word “soul” is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), and in the Bible, nephesh often refers to the life force that animates humans and animals. It is also sometimes used of “individuals,” as it is here in Genesis 1:21, where “soul” (nephesh) refers to the individual animal and bird, which is why the text says God created “every living soul that moves.” Here, “soul” refers to the individual animals, which is why so many English versions translate nephesh as “creature” in Genesis 1:21. The “creature” is called a “soul” because it is animated by nephesh, soul. This is not well understood in the Christian world and it is often taught that animals do not have soul, but Genesis is clear that they do; they are animated by “soul” just as humans are, and when they die their life force, their “soul” is gone.
[For more information, see Appendix 16: “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]
“And God saw that it was good.” This is in contrast to many ancient mythologies in which the creatures that lived in the seas were against God or were in chaos.(top)
“And God blessed them.” This is the first use of “bless” in the Bible, and it will be a key concept in Genesis. Note that here the blessing is related to being able to bear young and reproduce.
“fill.” The Hebrew word is male' (#04390 מָלֵא), which means “fill.” God commanded that the animal life fill the earth.(top)
|Gen 1:23||- (top)|
“Let the earth bring forth every kind of living soul.” The process by which this happened is not described. It was likely how it happened with Adam when God pulled dirt from the earth together and then gave it life. Genesis 1:25 says God created the animals.
“living soul.” The Hebrew word “soul” is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), and nephesh is the life force that animates humans and animals, and it is also used of “individuals.” See commentary on Genesis 1:20.
[For more information, see Appendix 16: “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]
“livestock.” In this context, this refers to domesticated animals. When God created the earth and humankind, and created the animals and birds to support, sustain, and beautify the earth, He made a distinction between the domesticated animals that would serve humans in various ways and the wild animals that generally cannot be domesticated, and today, thousands of years later, that distinction still holds true.
“creeping thing.” Or perhaps, “crawling thing.” This is very general and generally refers to small animals and reptiles. Apparently, it can also refer to insects, worms, etc., but that may not be its meaning here.(top)
|Gen 1:25||- (top)|
“Let us.” This “let us” is God speaking to His divine council, which is His council of spirit beings that God works with in ruling and running His creation. God’s divine council is an important but not commonly understood part of Scripture, so it deserves some explanation.
God is love. That simple statement explains why God created the universe as He did, and populated it with both spirit beings and human beings. God also gave those beings free will so that He could interact with them and they could serve Him and interact with Him because they chose to out of love. When God created the universe, and later when He created mankind and then the Church, He enlisted the help of His created beings to help Him govern creation. God does not rule over His created beings as a tyrant, making every decision by Himself and commanding His creation to carry out His wishes. Rather, God works with them and allows them to help Him govern His universe. There is evidence for this throughout the Bible.
For example, when God created the angels and other spirit beings, He created different categories and hierarchies among them so that there would be order as He worked with His creation. We see this in a number of different ways and places in Scripture. For example, when God created the angels, He created them with different abilities and in different positions. He made some of them to be “archangels” (archangelos; #743 ἀρχάγγελος) a word built from the Greek prefix archi (chief; highest; first) and the word angelos (messenger; “angel”). “Archangel” means “chief angel” or “ruling angel,” and the Christian world would have a much better grasp of the authority structures of the spirit world if the Greek word archangelos had been translated as “ruling angel” instead of transliterated as “archangel.”
The angelic world has a hierarchy, with some angels ruling over others. The ruling angel Michael is specifically called one of the “chief princes” (or “primary rulers”) in Daniel 10:13. Similarly, Revelation 10:1 and 18:21 mention “strong” angels who are more powerful than others. Not only do the angels differ in authority and power, there are also more kinds of spirit beings than just angels, such as cherubim and seraphim.
We also see different ranks of spirit beings in verses like Ephesians 6:12, which says that Christians wrestle against “rulers” (archē), “authorities” (exousia), and “world-rulers” (kosmokratōr) who are spiritual forces of evil. These are not just different words to describe the same spirit beings; these constitute different ranks of authority and power in the spirit world. Similarly, Colossians 1:16 mentions “thrones” (thronos), lordships (kuriotēs), rulers (archē), and “authorities” (exousia), and these are different positions in the kingdom of God and the Church.
God rules over all the spirit beings of various ranks and powers, and they are called “gods.” Indeed, there are many “gods” (1 Cor. 8:5). That is why God is called the “Most High” God (Gen. 14:18)—because He is far greater than all the other gods. In fact, God is called the “Most High” God more than 50 times in the Old Testament, and nine times in the New Testament.
When God created mankind, He continued to allow the beings He had created to be rulers under Him. He gave Adam and Eve rulership over the animals (Gen. 1:28) and the responsibility of managing the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Later, as the human population on earth increased, God commanded that rulers and judges be appointed to help Him rule (Exod. 18:21-23; Deut. 16:18). Even in the future Messianic Kingdom God will have “under-rulers” who will help Him and the Lord Jesus to rule (Isa. 1:26; Jer. 3:15; 23:4; Ezek. 44:24; Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 2:26). Of course, the greatest example of God allowing one of His beings to rule was when He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), and set him at His own right hand, “far above every ruler, and authority, and power, and lordship, and every name that is named…and he [God] put all things in subjection under his [Jesus’] feet” (Eph. 1:21-22). God made His Son Jesus ruler of His creation (Rev. 3:14).
When the Christian Church started, God continued His pattern of enlisting the aid of His creation to rule, and so He, via the Lord Jesus Christ, set up ministries to rule and equip the Church. Christ gave the equipping ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to help Him administer the Church and “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-13 NIV84). This is why Paul speaks of the authority he has from the Lord as an apostle, which is the same authority that other called leaders have from the Lord (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; 1 Thess. 4:2; Titus 2:15).
Besides the fact that God rules the spiritual world through a council of spirit beings just as He rules the earth via earthly rulers and the Church through appointed ministers, there is good biblical evidence, and some extra-biblical evidence, that God has a ruling council of spirit beings with whom He consults. Of course, God would not need to have a divine council, He is certainly capable of doing things on His own, but having such a council is in harmony with His loving nature and His desire to work together with His creation.
When it comes to extra-biblical evidence that God has a ruling council of spirit beings with whom He consults, many cultures have recognized that there is some kind of divine council or “council among the gods.” The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, notes: “The concept of a divine assembly (or council) is attested in the archaic Sumerian, Akkadian, Old Babylonian, Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Israelite, Celtic, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Roman and Nordic pantheons” (“Divine Council”, wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Council).
The testimony of these cultures is important because ancient myths often have a kernel of truth in them. Especially when they agree with the Bible on basic facts, such as in the ancient accounts of the Flood, these myths add credence to what the Bible says and show that God was at work in those ancient cultures, revealing Himself and His truth to them and demonstrating His love for all mankind.
Some of the biblical evidence for God having an inner council with whom He works is very clear. Psalm 89:7 mentions God’s divine council, and the word “council” is translated from the Hebrew word sōd (#05475 סוֹד), which refers to a “council, secret council, intimate council, circle of familiar friends, assembly,” and also sometimes to the results of the deliberation of a divine council. Other verses mention the divine council (sōd) of God. See commentary on Jeremiah 23:18, 22, and Job 15:8. The divine council of God shows up with varying degrees of clarity in a number of verses in the Old Testament. While God supplies the power for what He does, He works in concert with His creation.
When it comes to Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image,” many Trinitarians believe that “God” worked together with the other “Persons” in the Trinity when He created things, and they point to Genesis 1:26 as a proof text for their argument. However, many scholars acknowledge that this interpretation is erroneous. Recently, Michael Heiser, a Trinitarian theologian, wrote: “technical research in Hebrew grammar and exegesis has shown that the Trinity is not a coherent explanation. …Seeing the Trinity in Gen 1:26 is reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament, something that isn’t a sound interpretive method….”a
Although some theologians think this use of “us” in Genesis 1:26 could be the plural of majesty (also called the plural of emphasis), where God uses the plural “us” to magnify Himself, that is not the case here. Hebrew scholars point out that there is no other example of a speaker using the plural while addressing himself as the one being spoken to. More to the point, however, is the work of recent Hebrew scholars showing that the plural of majesty applies to nouns but not verbs. “The plural of majesty does exist of nouns…but Gen. 1:26 is not about nouns—the issue is the verbal forms.”b In Genesis 1:26, the verb “make” in the phrase “Let us make” is plural, and so the “us” is not a plural of majesty; it is God speaking to others about making mankind.
The most common objection to the “us” in Genesis 1:26 referring to angels is that Scripture attests that God made mankind. But God could easily have headed up a council with whom He conferred, and afterward did the work they decided upon. In fact, it is likely that in God’s divine council, as with many councils and corporate boards, the members do not initiate or act as much as they support and give input, and also learn what is being done and why. This certainly seems to be the conclusion we draw from Daniel 4, where “the decree of the watchers” is also called “the decree of the Most High” (Dan. 4:17, 24. See commentary on Dan. 4:17).
The New Testament also shows us that God works with leaders to rule His creation. We have already seen that He gave “all authority” to Jesus Christ, and works through him to appoint and direct the leaders who run the Christian Church. Although the New Testament does not have verses that are as clear as the Old Testament verses on the divine spirit council of God, there are New Testament references that infer it exists. The New Testament continues the use of the term “Most High” or “Most High God” when referring to the true God (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17; Heb. 7:1), indicating that the New Testament writers acknowledged that there are other “gods” besides Him. Although it has been assumed by many Christians that the other “gods” are demons, there is no reason to assume that all of them must be, especially in light of the Old Testament references to a divine council of gods.
There is a lot of evidence that God works with an inner council of spirit beings in order to rule His creation. However, although there is ample scriptural support for God’s divine council, there is not an overemphasis on it in the Bible. An overemphasis on God’s divine council would detract from the honor due God. God is still the Creator, the Most High, and the One who should get glory from both spirit and human beings.
The information on God’s divine inner council is scattered throughout the Bible. For example, there are several more verses besides Genesis 1:26 in which God uses “us” or says “let us.” These include Genesis 3:22; 11:7; and Isaiah 6:8. Daniel 4 shows God working with a council of “watchers.” Daniel 7:10 and 7:26 show God working with a panel of spirit judges to judge the Antichrist, and it is likely that those judges are the same as the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4 and the judges in Revelation 20:4 (see commentaries on Dan. 7:10; Rev. 4:4 and Rev. 20:4).
[For more on the divine council, see commentaries on Job 15:8; Psalm 89:7, and Jeremiah 23:18. In addition to meeting with His inner divine council, God also sometimes meets with larger general assemblies of spirit beings. For more information on those assemblies, see commentary on Job 1:6. For more on the “watchers in Daniel, see commentary on Daniel 4:17. For more on the Devil being the ruler of the world, see commentary on Luke 4:6. For more on the Millennial reign over the earth, see Appendix 5: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“make humankind in our image.” See commentary on Genesis 1:27.
“have dominion.” See commentary on Genesis 1:28.
“creeping thing that creeps.” There is a more specific word for “insect,” so these “creeping things” are more likely things that are close to the ground, things that “move” along the ground, like mice and other such animals.
“So God created humankind.” Genesis 1:27 is a summary statement. The details of the creation of humankind are in Genesis 2. The NET text note reads, “The Hebrew text has the article prefixed to the noun (הָאָדָם, haʾadam). The article does not distinguish man from woman here (“the man” as opposed to “the woman”), but rather indicates previous reference (see v. 26, where the noun appears without the article). It has the same function as English ‘the aforementioned.’”
“in his own image.” God both created and made humankind in His own image, in His likeness (Gen. 1:26, 27; 5:1; 9:6). There has been much discussion, and some disagreement, about what it means to be in the image of God, but a few things are certain. The immediately preceding context of Genesis 1 is God making the animals, which are not in the image of God. So being in the image of God involves things that are unique to mankind and different from the animals.
Furthermore, being in the image and likeness of God is not something that we humans “have,” it is something that we humans “are.” We are in the image and likeness of God because of the unique way God made us as humans distinct from animals. Thus, our being in the image and likeness of God is having many of the same qualities that God has, and this would include things like the desire and self-awareness to love and be loved, the desire to be part of a family, a sense of what is moral or godly, the ability to think abstractly, the desire to create, the ability to communicate at a very advanced and abstract level, and the capacity to worship God. God creating mankind in His image also expresses His intent that mankind would live forever together with him.
Something that helps us understand what it is to be in the image and likeness of God is that Genesis 1:26, which has both “image” (tselem, #06754 צֶלֶם) and “likeness” (demuth #01823 דְּמוּת), is also used in Genesis 5:3, which has both “image” and “likeness.” So whatever characteristics God gave Adam that gave him the image and likeness of God, Adam gave to his descendants. That made them in the image and likeness of Adam and thus also in the image and likeness of God. In fact, humans still have that image today in spite of their fallen nature (Gen. 9:6).
It is often said that since God is spirit, man must be a spirit being too. This has led to various false teachings, one of which is that every person is an eternal being and therefore intrinsically has everlasting life and will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. But when the Bible says that mankind is made and created in the image of God, it is not saying that mankind is like God in every way, and one of the ways we seem to be clearly different from God is that we are not “spirit beings.” God made mankind from the dust and then breathed into him the breath of life, making man a living soul. There is not a word in the creation record about mankind being, or even having, God’s nature of Holy Spirit. In that respect, we humans are very different from angels, who were made as spirit beings (Heb. 1:7 KJV, cp. NET, NIV2011, YLT).
There are some solid biblical reasons why mankind does not have to have holy spirit to be in the image of God. One is that after the Flood, which was more than 1600 years after Adam and Eve were created and long after the Fall, mankind was still said to be in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). Thus even in our fallen state, mankind is still in the image of God, and that is the reason why God says murder is wrong and why a murderer must be punished. To get the full impact of what God says about mankind in Genesis 9:6, we must note that in the context God had been talking about killing and eating animals. Animals were killed for their meat and for their skin, and this was acceptable, but God says it is not acceptable to kill a human being because, “in the image of God has God made mankind” (NIV). Thus, humans, in their fallen state without holy spirit, still bear the image of God.
Similarly, 1 Corinthians 11:7 speaks of men being made in the image of God, and although the context is a Christian meeting, not everyone in such a meeting would of necessity be born again and have holy spirit. Even more to the point is James 3:9, which says that with our tongue we curse people, even though they are made in the image of God; but of course not every person we curse is saved and has holy spirit. The point James is making is that even in their fallen state humans deserve respect because they are made in the image of God.
Another reason we know that the image of God does not refer to spirit is that Jesus Christ is specifically said to be the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). But when the Bible says that, it is not saying that Jesus is the image of God because he had holy spirit. If that were the case, Jesus would not have been considered to be the image of God until his baptism, at which point he received the holy spirit (Matt. 3:16). Also, when the Bible says that Jesus is the image of God, it is not saying that since every human is the image of God, Jesus is just like everyone else.
The verses that say Jesus is the image of God are elevating him. So how is Jesus the image of God in a way that other humans, who are also the image of God, are not? The sin of Adam and Eve changed mankind, giving them a sin nature, which results in people sinning. The apostle Paul described how we humans live due to the Fall: “I do not understand my own actions, for I am not practicing what I truly want, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).
Like every human, Jesus was the image of God because God created us in His own image. But Jesus was able to take the innate image of God in him and live it out in a way that other humans cannot attain due to their sin nature. Jesus perfectly reflected the image of God by the way he lived. Jesus’ image of God was so clear and complete that he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In contrast, humans are not so clearly the image of God. We are still in the image of God, but that image can be hard to see at times. The Fall did not keep people from being the image of God, but the Fall has “blurred” the image. It keeps us from living according to the image of God in which we were created. We struggle to be like Jesus, who always loved, always made the right moral choice, always communicated well, and so forth.
In spite of the fact that we humans do not live up to the image of God inside us, that image is still there, and is clearly a reason why God wants us to be loving toward each other and honor each other. Murder is wrong because we are made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). Cussing out each other is wrong because we are in the likeness of God (James 3:9). We humans don’t “have” the image of God, we “are” the image of God. Now our challenge is to live like it.
“Male and female.” Human sexuality is different from the sexual difference between animals. When God created the other animals, i.e., the “livestock and creeping thing and wild animal of the earth” (Gen. 1:24), He never specifically said anything about them being “male and female,” even though they were. Human sexuality is woven into the fabric of life and family life in unique ways that have to do with God’s purpose for men, women, and the family. The two sexes are necessary for reproduction and important for the building of a godly family and godly children. God says He hates divorce because He created the man and woman to become “one” and have “godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). This explains why the Bible consistently deals so severely with sexual sins that destroy the family that God is trying to maintain and protect, for example, adultery.
Along the same vein, the animals and plants are specifically said to be created, and thus to naturally reproduce, “according to their ‘kind,’” where ‘kind’ is roughly equivalent to genus (Gen 1:11-12, 21, 24-25). Animals and plants can be placed into “groups” (“kinds,” “genera”) that are very similar and can crossbreed. That is why Noah took animals onto the ark “according to their kinds” (Gen. 6:20). Noah did not have to take every species of animal onto the ark. Taking the “kinds” was enough to ensure the survival of the “kind,” and they crossbred and divided into different species after the Flood. In contrast to animals and plants, humans are not said to be created “according to their kind,” because there is no other “kind” like us. Human beings are created in the image of God and are unique.
“he created them.” Adam was created from the ground, and Eve was created from material from Adam. Adam and Eve were the first two human beings and from them came every human who has ever lived.
[For more on Adam and Eve being literal and the ones who began the human race, see commentary on Genesis 2:7.](top)
“fill the earth.” The Hebrew word translated “fill” is male (or spelled mala; #04390 מָלֵא or מָלָא), and in this context, it means “fill.” Other meanings include, “be full, fullness or abundance, to be ended or accomplished, to satisfy or fulfill.” Adam and Eve were the first humans, and God commanded them to fill the earth, something that has now been accomplished.
Although all the modern translations read “fill,” including the New King James Version, there is some confusion about the translation because some older versions have “replenish,” including the KJV (1611), Noah Webster Bible (1833), ERV (1885), and the ASV (1901), but not including the Geneva Bible (1599); Young’s Literal Translation (1898), or Rotherham (1902).
The translation “replenish” has, among other things, contributed to the belief that there were humans or humanoids on earth that existed before the catastrophe that occurred in Genesis 1:2 when the earth “became” without form and void. There is a simple but not well-known explanation as to why some early versions like the King James read “replenish” when other versions just as old, such as the Geneva Bible, read “fill.” Up until recently, one of the meanings of the English word “replenish” was “to fill.” In fact, the very first definition of “replenish” in Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary is “To fill; to stock with numbers or abundance.” As the second definition of “replenish,” Webster has “To recover former fullness.” As time passed, the first definition of replenish, “to fill” fell out of use, and the second definition became the standard definition of the word.
One of the dangers of reading older versions of the Bible is that words in them may have changed meanings over time, and no longer convey the proper modern meaning. The King James Version is full of these. A few examples in the KJV are: “by and by” (Luke 21:9) means immediately; “carriages” (Acts 21:15) means something that had to be carried, or baggage; “conversation” (Phil. 1:27) meant conduct; “instantly” (Luke 7:4) meant earnestly; “naughty” (Jer. 24:2) sometimes meant worth naught, or worthless; “nephew” (Judg. 12:14) sometimes meant grandson; “sometimes” (Eph. 2:13) meant at one time, formerly. In the KJV, “sometimes” never means occasionally, as it does in today’s English.
“Replenish” in the KJV, ASV, ERV, etc., falls into the category of words that have changed meanings over time. God told Adam and Eve to fill the earth, and up until recently, “replenish” meant “fill.”
“Have dominion.” God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, but they transferred it to the Devil. In Genesis 1:28, God gave the dominion over the earth to mankind. One piece of evidence of that dominion is that God brought the animals He made to Adam so that he could give them names (Gen. 2:19). The whole situation changed, however, when Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6). When they followed the prompting of God’s arch-enemy the Devil and ate of the tree, they took on the crafty nature of the Devil, and also transferred dominion of the earth over to him. That is why the Devil told Jesus that the earth had been handed over to him and he could give it to anyone he wanted to (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:6).
The fact that God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth not only displays God’s goodness and trust in humankind, but it reveals part of God’s purpose for humankind: to govern the earth on God’s behalf. We see this also in the fact that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden “to work it and to care for it” (Gen 2:15).
[For more on God’s purpose for humankind, see commentary on Genesis 2:15. For more on Adam and Eve getting the crafty nature of the Devil, see commentary on Romans 7:17. For more on the dominion of the earth being transferred over to the Devil, see commentary on Luke 4:6.](top)
“you.” The “you” is plural. God gave dominion and food to humankind, both men and women.
“They will be food for you.” The Hebrew subject is singular, literally “it” or “this,” but it refers to the plurality of plants and tree fruit, so we would say “they” in English. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate plants.(top)
“animal.” The Hebrew is more literally “living thing.”
“living soul.” The Hebrew word “soul” is nephesh (#05315 נֶפֶשׁ), and nephesh is the life force that animates humans and animals, and it is also used of “individuals.” Here it refers specifically to the life force in humans and animals. See commentary on Genesis 1:21.
[For more information on soul, see Appendix 16: “Usages of ‘Soul.’”](top)
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