Some Conclusions About the First Creation Story in the Bible

The Genesis 1 creation.

Genesis 1 Creation Examined, part 7

7   Some conclusions

Both Augustine and Martin Luther have as their main perspective on Genesis 1 that it must confirm their faith, in all of its details. They accept that there are confusing elements that they are unable to explain, but they refuse to settle for sometimes obvious solutions, which challenge their Christian beliefs in any way. The text is the truth, in their minds, so they just have to try to figure that unquestionable truth out.

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       Without this prerequisite, a reading of Genesis 1 hints at other explanations. The plural Elohim, supported also with some of the verb forms, strongly indicates that the root of this creation myth is to be found in some kind of polytheism. More gods than one were at the scene, when the world was created.

       This is quite plausible, since it is the case with most creation myths — also the ones being the closest to Genesis 1 in place and time. Monotheism is extremely rare, and almost as rare is a world creation taking place with only one god present. Gods are usually the first to appear and to multiply. This seems to have been the case also with whatever cosmogony Genesis 1 is based on.

God creates the land living animals, by Raphael Sanzio 1519.
God creates the land living animals, by Raphael Sanzio 1519.

       Since the process described in Genesis 1 is leading up to the creation of man, who is to rule and use just about all that was created beforehand, this is likely to be the part of a possibly more complex cosmogony — that part which tells the story of how man and his world appeared. Another part, lost or edited out along the way, may have described the appearance of gods, and the design of their domain.

       The distant and impersonal nature of the gods, Elohim, and the undramatic way in which mankind is created, indicates a mythology where the gods have a world of their own, and where they are rather indifferent to the appearance and continued adventures of human beings. This is quite a common setting in mythologies. The divine world is one of enough tidings and drama to keep the gods occupied, without their need to interfere the least with human affairs.

       The continued interaction between Jahve in Genesis 2 and mankind, seems way out of character for Elohim of Genesis 1, who has a very detached way of igniting the process of creation. It seems to be rather automatic after the very first act — that of bringing light to the world. Light separates the sky from the sea, its heat removes water and exposes land, and it is the main force in making life emerge from the sea, the air, and the earth.

       This initial step of bringing light is the most characteristic ingredient of Genesis 1, and a spectacular opening at that. The seemingly endless chaos of darkness and a primordial ocean is suddenly interrupted by light, like dawn repaints the landscape afore the naked eye. Each dawn the world is recreated, in as much as it again manifests itself. Each dusk the primordial dark chaos returns. This is a very ancient way of seeing the cyclic order of creation. And the creator god can have been none other, originally, than the sun.

Fiat. Let there be. Robert Fludd 1617.
Fiat (Latin for "Let there be"), the word by which God creates. This is a symbolic depiciton of how God's spirit in the form of a dove creates light. Illustration from Utriusque Cosmi Historia, by Robert Fludd, 1617.

       The mode of creation by ordering it is also quite characteristic for Genesis 1, not even recognizable in its sibling Genesis 2. "Let there be" can be seen as expressing a wish, but it also implies passivity. This god is not making the world as much as observing while it emerges. He wishes it, it happens, he watches it, and he is pleased. This is quite near the role of the spectator, and very far from the craftsman of Genesis 2 and most other creation stories. This detachment and passivity would make more sense if Elohim were just witnessing a process going on by itself within nature.

       Mainly, the distanced and detached process of Genesis 1 makes it clear why the Bible needed another creation story, with passion, drama, and personal interactions — that of Genesis 2. A people would find it very hard indeed to feel chosen and defined, with just Genesis 1 as the story of their coming into being.


1   Genesis — The Text

Genesis 1 Creation

The first creation of the Bible

  1. Genesis — The Text

  2. The seven days

  3. Good for man

  4. Commentaries

  5. Augustine of Hippo

  6. Martin Luther

  7. Some conclusions

This article was originally written for a seminar at the Department of History of Ideas and Learning, Lund University, as a part of my dissertation in progress on creation myths and their patterns of thought. Transforming the text to webpages, I have excluded footnotes, or edited them into the text.

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I'm a Swedish author and historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. I've also written books about Taoism, the Tarot, and life force concepts around the world. Click the image to get to my personal website.