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THEOLOGY > God > Work of Creation > In the Beginning 


Bereshith in the Hebrew is universally translated into English as “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). This one word, translated by three words, justifies several observations.

One, the cosmos is not eternal; it had a beginning.

declares a beginning, a starting point: “in the beginning” (not in the sense of “when God began to create” but an absolute act of creation; the Hebrew syntax will not allow a process). Though acknowledged by some philosophers both past and present, an eternal dualism of mind (Form or Spirit) and matter, the two essential components of reality, is unacceptable. To speak in these terms, then it must be affirmed that Mind is initial and matter is secondary; only Mind (the God of Revelation) is from everlasting to everlasting (Ps. 90:1-2; 93:2); everything besides God has an origin. Only He is the “Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), the One without origination. Matter has not eternally been alongside Him or opposite Him, but at a point ("in the beginning”) matter came into being because of Him. Before this beginning there was only God. “The first verse of Genesis therefore stands as a simple declaration of the fact of absolute Creation” (Young, Studies in Genesis One, 7).

“Beginning” is used in both Testaments of Creation (Gen. 1:1; Matt. 19:4, 8; 24:21; Mk. 10:6; 13:19; II Thess. 2:13; Heb. 1:10; II Pet. 3:4; I Jo. 1:1; 2:13-14; Rev. 3:14), and “the foundation of the world” is used in the New Testament (Matt. 13:35; 25:34; Lu. 11:50; Jo, 17:24; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 4:3; 9:26; I Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Both phrases refer to a point of origination; there was a time when all that is did not exist; there was nothing. Since all that is once was not, then all that is must have had a beginning. Such is the affirmation of the Scriptures.

Two, it is appropriate to equate the word “beginning” with time.

In fact “in the beginning” marks the beginning of time. God created “in the beginning,” that is, not in eternity but in time, at the commencement of time. This is to state that time is a creation, a creation by “Elohim: The Creator,” the Creator of all (see: Elohim: The Creator). There was a “time” when there was no time, and, then at the point of Genesis 1:1 time began.

If time is a creation, then time is dependent as is all of Creation. Time is not an independent entity that exists on its own, or a mere human concept that is utilized by man to understand and explain reality; but time, as part of God’s creative work, is contingent. It is a created dimension, a finite dimension—the dimension created for man (time can also be spoken of as a container or a continuum, along with space, that man occupies). So all that is created is temporal, associated with and conditioned by time. Time owes its “existence” to the Maker of all and is dependent upon the Maker for its existence.

Time is in contrast to eternity. Time is not an interruption of eternity, or a segment between two “periods” of eternity, but eternity is of one dimension and time is of another dimension. “Time” and “eternity” speak of two essentially opposite dimensions, using the word “dimension” for lack of a better word. Contrary to Cullmann, eternity is not unending time or simply an extension of time, for there is a disjunction between the two, a disjunction that reflects Biblical thought and not Greek thought.

God inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15), so eternity is as eternal and everlasting as God is eternal and everlasting. Because eternity is the dwelling place of God, eternity is identified with God and is as unchanging as God is unchanging. For God to inhabit eternity means that He is without bounds.

On the other hand, time is identified with man. Man inhabits time and is a creature of time. On his own, he cannot escape time, but is bound by its limitations; man is a temporal creature, a creature of time. Being created, time is dependent, and man dwells in this contingency; he dwells in this conditional dimension or continuum. Not only is man contingent, but the dimension man lives in is contingent. Without God, time and man would return instantly to nothingness. Man is indeed a frail creature, and the dimension of his existence is equally fragile. Continually man and the space-time continuum are upheld by the Word of His power (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17).

Three, since “beginning” informs us of the commencement of time, then implied in the inception of time is the fact that there must be an end of time.

The fact that time is a creation implies, as is true of everything that is created, limitations and termination. Time is not eternity; in fact, time and eternity are different concepts, different dimensions that cannot be conjoined or united. The nature of each forbids it. Both are valid concepts but concepts that are alien to each other. There is no such thing as eternal time—an irrational and non-Biblical concept.

Time is relative in the sense that it is contingent and is not endless, but time is absolute in that the points of time (events) are moving systematically from a beginning to an end. This is to affirm a Purpose that is progressive and will be finally realized when time has run its course. Time can be defined as the medium (dimension/continuum) by which the eternal thoughts of God are becoming realized, a process that constitutes history. Such reflections inevitably leads one to Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign); in other words, there is an appointed time, a determined time for everything, every event (Eccles. 3:1-8; see Theistic Determinism). This affirms that within time there is no chance nor luck; nothing just happens.

A beginning points to an ending; an initiation leads to a consummation. Obviously, this affirms the linear view of history rather than the ancient and modern concept of circular history. Ahead is the conclusion, the end, the goal, the telos. There is an Eschaton planned. Time is not without meaning and purpose; in time there is being accomplished the will of Him who created time. And the plan will be completed. And time will be no more.

Four, “in the beginning” teaches theological truth about the One we call Jesus.

John the Apostle begins his Gospel with these words: “In the beginning.” He is specifying a specific point in order to make a declaration about the “Word,” the One who “became flesh and dwelt among us”—the one we know as Jesus. The point he is referencing is the point of Creation (Gen. 1:1), and at the point of Creation the Word existed; the One who became flesh in time was present at the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word” (Jo. 1:1).

In fact, John affirms that the Word was not only present, but that He was involved in Creation: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jo. 1:3). His creative work is understandable because “the Word was God” (Jo. 1:1). In fact, the word “God” in Gen. 1:1 is plural and anticipates the later revelation of the Trinity (see: Elohim and Theos). And not only is He the Creator of all but He is the Sustainer of all (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17).

Thus, John (Jo. 1:1-3) is affirming that Jesus (the Word) is God; that the Word was with God in the beginning (Son and Father); and that the Son had a part in Creation. So the theology in the first verses of the Gospel is the Deity of Jesus, the fact of the Trinity, and the creative work of the Son in Genesis.

Five, the reference to time (“beginning”) in the first verse of the Bible, coupled with the Revelation that time is a creation of God, gives significance to time.

Opposed to the worth and purpose attached to time in the Bible is the ancient Greek deprecation of time, treating it as an illusion or as not truly the real. For the Greeks, especially Plato, the real was the Idea; and the Idea could never be temporal. Creation was merely a shadow or image of the real, therefore, insignificance was attached to time and things temporal.

But in the Biblical teaching, time is significant for several reasons: it was created by God; it forms part of the continuum in which man dwells; it is not immune from the intervention of God into time to accomplish His purpose (i.e., Flood and Incarnation); and time is the arena of redemptive history: God the Son entered time, becoming like the man who lived in time, so He could redeem the man who had sinned at a point in time. God’s redemptive work in time is for the purpose of preparing man for eternity, so that man might live eternally with God apart from time.

Often, “In the beginning” is simply passed over in the reading of the text, but the phrase is filled with instruction for the believer who will take the time to pause and meditate.

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