1 In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to create the world and all things in it1, both visible and invisible,2 in six days,3 and all very good.4 This was a demonstration of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness.5
2 Ge 1:1 , Jn 1:1-3 , Col 1:15-16
3 Ge 2:1-3 , Ex 20:8-11
4 Ge 1:31 , Ec 7:29 , Ro 5:12
5 Ro 1:20 , Je 10:12 , Pr 3:19
In the beginning God created. Therefore, whatever exists has derived its existence from God. Because whatever exists owes its existence to him, he rightfully exercises sovereign control over it all, like the potter does over the clay. Because he is the Creator there is an infinite gulf between him and the highest and noblest of his creatures. No matter how much the creature progresses or improves his lot, he can never come to stand on an equal footing with his Creator. Even the eternity that is set before us after death will not give us time to erase the distinctions between us and him.
In the beginning there was God, and then there was creation. There are not two ultimate realities at war in the universe. There is a battle between good and evil, but there is no question as to the outcome because God stands above and beyond the forces arrayed against him and by the Word that brought all things into existence he can bring all things into submission.
In the beginning God created the world, and all was very good. Unlike Eastern religions, the Biblical faith holds that the material realm is not intrinsically, but its very nature as material, evil. The food we eat, the society in which we live, the bodies we have are not evil in themselves, even though they can be perverted for evil use. Man cannot blame the world God has given us for our sinful actions, but must take responsibility for what he chooses to do.
God did not create because he was lonely or because he was somehow incomplete. He did not have to create at all, for he needed nothing. The perfect fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit through eternity satisfied all his needs. This does not, however, mean that he did not have a purpose for creating. He created to manifest his glory. The universe as it was spoken into existence, in its marvelous complexity and wondrous beauty, gives ample evidence of the power, wisdom and goodness of God. In doing this he not only gave cause for all creation to worship and adore him, but also brought into existence a world in which the creature could find perfect joy and contentment. No better world could have been conceived. Because it is his world, the product of his wisdom and purpose, when we look for meaning in the universe we must make our way back ultimately to the Triune God. Without the Creator and his purposes, nothing really makes sense.
“God create[d] the world and all things in it in six days.” A study of the writings of the authors of the Westminster Confession, from which our confession draws very heavily, leaves little doubt that they understood these to be literal, 24-hour days. This understanding has been called into question by the findings of the sciences, especially geology and astronomy, during the last 200 years. Many in the church have found the evidence against this view so overwhelming that they cannot in good conscience hold it any longer. The rate of decay of certain kinds of atoms from one form to another forms the basis of radiometric dating methods. This method, using different kinds of ‘radioactive’ atoms, has been tested and verified over the course of the past few decades often enough that it is widely recognized as reliable. Results have been confirmed through laboratory analysis and by cross checking calculated dates with materials that have known historical time frames. Those who accept this evidence for an old earth also look at the Biblical material and see evidence in it that makes it possible to view the days of the creation account include more than a single 24-hour period. In line with the use of ‘day’ in other places in Scripture, they take the ‘days’ of the Genesis account to refer to long periods of time. They believe the creation account to be factual, but just do not take all that it says literally.
Advocates of a literal, 24-hour, understanding of these days find the arguments of those who hold to the day-age theory less than convincing. They ask, if these ‘days’ represent succeeding eons then why do plants and trees (Day 3) come millions of years before the sun, moon and stars (Day 4). They find the methods used to date things millions of years old unconvincing because they do not take into account catastrophes like the flood and assume that things go on as they always have. All dating methods assume a uniform rate of deterioration in certain atoms and a knowledge of the original concentration of ‘radioactive’ atoms in the materials being dated, things that are not givens. The fact that different tests have yielded widely varying ages for objects being examined only adds to misgivings about the validity of these methods. In addition, these methods do not take into account that the world God created would have had many indications of age the moment they were called into existence (e.g. trees thirty feet high bearing fruit that could only be produced on mature trees, and a man that had the appearance of an adult). They also look at the Biblical material and find it difficult to see the phrase ‘and there was evening and there was morning, a second day’ to refer easily to anything other than an ordinary day.
While we may hold our own opinions on this issue, we ought to note that the age of the earth is a relatively unimportant matter. There are Christians who hold the earth to be billions of years old, but who still believe God created it all, that man did not evolve but was created specially by God, and that Adam was created only within the last ten to twenty thousand years. There are some who want to make belief in a young earth a test of true commitment to the authority of Scripture. It seems unwise to insist that anything other than 24-hour days in Genesis and a ten to twenty thousand year old earth are marks of accommodation that threaten the faith. This matter of the days of creation and its related subject of the age of the earth does raise some important issues. If we hold to the doctrine of creation as outlined in this chapter, then we will reject some of the tenets of modern scientific thought. We must reject the naturalism that pervades so much of the scientific world today that by definition rules out the existence of anything that is not material. We must reject the idea that life originated and developed without any help or direction from God. Some may be content with a purposeless creation and life, but it is not a biblical perspective. And finally, we must reject the idea that the facts of Scripture must be confirmed by science before we can believe them to be true. Nature reveals the glory of God, but not as clearly as Scripture. A better understanding of nature may help us to appreciate more what Scripture teaches at points, but the science of today that is rooted in a thoroughgoing naturalism must not be allowed to determine what Scripture can and cannot teach.
2 After God had made all other creatures, he created human beings, male and female, with reasoning and immortal souls, making them fitted for that life for God for which they were created.6
The last and highest of God’s creation was man. (At one time those who believed in evolution would have agreed with this, but there is a growing feeling among many that man cannot be assigned a superior status. This is but another indication that when man forsakes God’s truth it will not be long before he will believe any lie.) The image of God in man fits him for the purposes for which he was created. Being in God’s image humanity serves as God’s representative on earth to rule over all other creatures. Humankind is not just one creature among equals. He is not even merely the most advanced of creatures. By virtue of the Creator’s decree, he exercises the right of rule over the other creatures. Being in God’s image also means that he has the ability to relate to others, as God does even within the Godhead. Man is thus capable of a relationship with God himself. The image of God has nothing to do with natural endowments, but belongs in the same degree to all men everywhere. This is why Christians place such a high value on human life. How could we possibly diminish the value or worth of any creature who bears the imprint of the Almighty on his soul? This point receives even greater emphasis when we remember man is created with an immortal soul. His value is not defined just by what he does in this life, but by what he will be in the life to come.
They were made in the image of God, with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness.7
At its root level, being in the image of God means that man is the visible representation of God on earth. This image is not something man has, but tells us who he is. As the visible image of God it is likely that we are to include man’s body as well as his soul in our understanding of what this image is. This does not mean that we think God has a physical body, but only that in some way our bodies reflect the nature of God. With our eyes we see, though not as well as God who can see the heart of man. With our ears we hear, but not like God who can hear the feeblest of the saints’ prayers even when it is not audibly spoken. In these and other ways our bodies can be seen to reflect the fact that ours is a living God who can respond to the world around him, and is not like the idols who can neither speak nor walk (Jer 10:5). To the extent that it is possible for a finite creature to resemble the infinite Creator, God made man resemble him.
Which aspects of our nature are included in the image of God have typically been identified by reading backwards from those texts that tell us what man is restored to through Christ. Taking this approach we find Scripture speaks to three aspects of man in God’s image (Eph 4:24, Col 3:10). First, being created in God’s image means man was created with righteousness. This is that ability to relate rightly with other people, to treat them fairly and justly. Second man was created in holiness, that is, with an ability to enjoy fellowship with God without fear or prodding. Finally, man was created with a true knowledge of God. This was not a perfect knowledge of his Creator, since the finite can never fully grasp the infinite, but it was accurate so that he truly knew who God was and what his will was.
They had the law of God written in their hearts, and the power to fulfil it; yet they also had the possibility of transgressing, and were left to the liberty of their own changeable wills.8
Before the fall Adam knew and was capable of perfectly obeying God’s will for his life. Adam was able to live in perfect conformity to God’s will, but this ability was subject to change depending on what he did with it. Adam was born with a true free will. He was capable of choosing to do good or evil. Sin was not a necessity, built into the character of man or the nature of the universe, but was a possibility based on man’s choice, as was righteousness.
3 Apart from the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While they kept this commandment they were happy in their fellowship with God, and had dominion over all other creatures.1
As rulers over the rest of creation, Adam and Eve knew what was required of them. Because of the attention given to the one prohibition, we can forget that God expected other things from them. They were placed in the garden to take care of it, and they were given dominion over the earth. In both these matters they were to exercise goodness and wisdom as was becoming to those who represented God on earth. In addition to the basics required for a good and wise rule, the one special prohibition was given them: they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was given the choice of pursuing moral knowledge on their own or trusting God to reveal to them at the appropriate time what was right and wrong. Their future happiness depended on learning to trust God and follow his leading rather than striking out on their own to decide what was best for them and the world they had been given to rule. When they chose their own way they surrendered the only way to wisely rule creation for the benefit of all, and thus relinquished the bliss of paradise.