o God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds . . . Genesis 1:21 ESV
Created – There are demarcations in the Hebrew text that provide important insights about our relationship to God and to the rest of His cosmos. Unfortunately, some of these significant markers are lost in translation. The verb bara’, used in this text, is one of the victims of translation concealment. Why? Because this is the first time this particular verb is used after the opening verse of Scripture. In other words, up to the events of the fifth day, God does not create in the way that Genesis 1:1 reports. Until this day, God “forms” (‘asah) what He has already created. But on this day, something new is added.*
Genesis 1:1 opens the Hebraic view of cosmogony with a statement that everything is created (bara’) by God. But this doesn’t mean that on the first day God instantaneously made each and every piece and part of the cosmos. In fact, what this verse implies (as we see from the subsequent report) is that God made the “stuff” out of which all the rest of creation up to day five is “formed.” In other words, on Day 1 God makes all the necessary material. On days 2 through 4 He shapes this raw material into the various objects that populate the cosmos, e.g. light; the sun, moon and stars; the waters and the earth, vegetation. These He “forms” from the original “stuff.”
Why is this differentiation important? Because the Genesis account is not a textbook in a physics or astronomy lab. It is, among other things, a polemic against the competing mythologies of the cultures surrounding Israel in the 16th Century BC. And common to those mythologies was the idea of other celestial entities who played a role in the creation saga. Tanin, the dragon embodiment of chaos, fought a war with Marduk in Babylonian mythology. Yam and Baal were Canaanite gods who battled over creation. The sun, moon and stars were not objects fashioned by a Supreme God but were gods themselves, vying for power and holding mere mortals captive. The briefest glance at a history of tribal cultures will convince you that the world is populated by all kinds of gods in all kinds of forms. When the Hebrew view came on the scene, it set aside all of this pagan explanation, relegating everything to the forming design of the one true God. That’s why Genesis 1:2-19 uses the verb ‘asah, not bara’. Everything except God Himself is constructed from His original material. None of it has any life or power on its own.
But something happens in verse 20. Swarms of animate creatures are created, not fashioned. These are described as having nephesh hayyah. In other words, there is a significant, essential difference between the inanimate creation (which includes all plant life) and the animate creation. Animate beings are not of the same order nor are they ontologically connected to inanimate beings. In the biblical narrative, life does not evolve from non-life. Life must be added to the equation by the action of God. The “stuff” might be the same, but the result is entirely different because now God engages in the renewal of the original creative process. Genesis 1:1 creates. Genesis 1:2-19 forms. Genesis 1:20-21 creates.
And now the stage is set for another linguistic demarcation in Genesis 2:7, for when Man comes on the scene, he is created (bara’), but there is yet another distinction.
Why should we care about these nuances? Isn’t it all still God’s handiwork? We care because in a world where men are reduced to higher rungs of the same molecular composition as carbon and mold, we must assert and demonstrate the uniqueness of our design. Not only are we not related to primordial slime, we are designed in such a way that the awesome power of God’s image is expressed in our purpose. To reduce that power to nothing more than random collections of DNA is to strip all men of their dignity, responsibility and destiny. The Hebrew text will have nothing to do with such base paganism. In this view it stands alone. Apart. Unique. Just like its author.
Topical Index: create, fashion, bara’, ‘asah, animate, Genesis 1:21
*NASB attempts to capture this difference by using “create” and “made,” but without the Hebrew original, I am afraid the point of differentiation might be lost to the English reader.