The creation of the heavens and the earth is the first of the revealed acts of God in Scripture. In that first act, the triune God brought all things out of nothing by the word of His power. He did so progressively in the space of six days, creating spheres and filling each sphere with heavenly bodies and living organisms. The creation of man and woman as the image of God was the climax of creation. God created the world for man to inhabit and to have fellowship with Him. God gave man the task of filling the earth with righteous image bearers who would glorify Him and of ruling over the world. The creation account is both historical (describing events in time that actually occurred) and theological (providing a foundation for our understanding of God’s subsequent works of providence and redemption).
The opening words of the Old Testament highlight the significance of the divine act of creation. In Genesis 1:1–2, Moses gives Israel the account of creation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He gives the account so that God’s people would know that the God of their redemption is the God who made the heavens and the earth. The creation of the heavens and the earth (i.e., everything visible and invisible) is God’s first revealed work in Scripture. Creation, providence, and redemption are God’s principal works ad extra—God’s execution of His eternal decree concerning His works outside Himself. In creation, God began to work out His eternal decree in time and space. God then carried His eternal decree out in the works of providence and redemption.
As is true of the work of redemption, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit carried out this work according to the order of the persons in the Godhead and their unique personal properties. The Father commanded the creation through the Son, who is the Logos, the living Word. In turn, the Son brought the world into existence by the Spirit. God efficaciously created the habitable world, this work operating from the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. As Herman Bavinck explained:
The word that the Father pronounces in the Son is the full expression of the divine being and therefore also of all that will exist by that word as creature outside the divine being. And the procession (spiratio) by which the Father and the Son are the “active basis” (principium) of the Spirit also contains within itself the willing of that world, the idea of which is comprehended within the divine wisdom. The creation thus proceeds from the Father through the Son in the Spirit in order that, in the Spirit and through the Son, it may return to the Father.
Though the creation account in Genesis 1–2 emphasizes the beginning of the visible universe with all its vast diversity, the Scriptures also teach that the triune God is the Creator of all things invisible. The invisible world, which includes the angels, heaven, and hell, was also brought into being by divine fiat.
According to Scripture, God brought all things into existence without the use of any prior existing mater. He created ex nihilo. God spoke, and by a fiat of His will all things came into existence (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Ps. 33:9; Heb. 11:3). The transcendent, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God created in order to reveal Himself and His goodness to His creatures. God is the foundation of all goodness, so He made the material world very good at the beginning. Creation is also the foundation of all divine revelation, for it is the theater in which God reveals His own goodness. As Geerhardus Vos noted: “A God who by a self-conscious act of freedom brings the universe into existence cannot desire to do anything other than to reveal Himself directly in an unmistakable way to the world thus created. A God who as Creator of the world maintains interest in the world will not let that world exist without proper, sufficient knowledge of Himself.”
These truths stand in stark contrast to all pantheistic and materialistic theories of origin. Pantheism is the idea that all things are God and makes no distinction between the Creator and His creation. It states that everything is divine and collapses God into the world, making all things a part of Him and denying His transcendence.
The most popular form of materialism today is Darwinian evolution (in both its original and moderated forms). All forms of the evolutionary theory of origins are antithetical to the biblical doctrine of creation, as they deny the divine agency in bringing all things into being and deny the distinct creation of living beings according to their kinds (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25; 6:20; 7:14).
The deism of the eighteenth century sought to position itself as a via media between pantheism and materialism on the one hand and biblical revelation on the other. Deists wanted to preserve the distinction between the Creator and the creation while also denying the supernatural and the need for revelation. Accordingly, they asserted that the God who had created the world does not carry out common acts of providence within it. They also denied the deity of Christ, who is Himself the supreme Creator and Redeemer of all things.
Scripture teaches that the God who created all things out of nothing by the word of His power fills the heavens and the earth, exercising His sovereign will over all creation (Pss. 115:3; 139:7–12; Isa. 45:7; Jer. 23:24; Lam. 3:37–38; Dan. 4:35). The writer of Hebrews explains that the eternal Son, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, “upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes, “God's works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” The biblical revelation about creation harmonizes with the biblical record of providence and redemption, while all other theories of origin fail to explain providential governance and redemption. Furthermore, to deny the historicity of the creation account is to undermine the historicity of the rest of Scripture. If the “generation of the heavens and the earth” in Genesis 2:4 is not history, then there is no reason to conclude that the other nine “generations” that structure Genesis (Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2) are also objective history. And if the rest of Genesis is not historical, then we are forced to question the truthfulness of the rest of Scripture, which takes the persons and events of Genesis to be real history.
There is both structure and progress in the creation account of Genesis 1. The opening chapter of Genesis makes clear that God first created spheres (heavens, water, land) and then filled those spheres with solar bodies and living beings over the course of six days. God’s creative fiats over the first five days were preparatory for God’s creation of His image bearers—men and women would dwell in this habitable world and have dominion over it for His glory. This is one of primary rationales for the progressive nature of creation.
The progressive nature of the original creation also serves the theological purposes of God in the progressive nature of the new creation. Just as God did not create instantaneously, neither does He instantaneously consummate history or sanctify those He redeems. The theological nature of the creation account is seen in the way that the New Testament draws on the language of Genesis 1. Jesus is the Light of the World who shines into the spiritual darkness in order to give men the light of life (John 1:5; 8:12). The Apostle Paul explained the nature of regeneration when he wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Additionally, the distinct acts of creation involve the principle of separation that is revealed throughout redemptive history. God divided light from darkness; evening from morning; the waters under the heavens from those above; dry land from the sea; different kinds of fish, birds, and animals from one another; and the animals from man at creation. The same God separated the Jews from the gentiles to be a typical new creation in redemptive history. Ultimately, God separates a people to Himself out of every nation of the world to be a new creation in Christ. The metanarrative of Scripture records God’s gracious work of separating a people for Himself out of the world.
Genesis chapter 1 reveals God’s agenda to make a world and a people to display His glory. The first three days of creation provided lights in the sky, water, land on the earth, and seed-bearing plants for food—a garden world. Days four to six provided fish to swim the seas, birds to soar in the skies, and animals to walk the earth. As the climax of creation, God made mankind to rule for Him in this paradise world. God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). Man was made to reflect God’s glory, to worship Him and know Him, and, as Ephesians 4:24 tells us, to be like Him ‘in true righteousness and holiness.’ The pattern of Genesis 1 will prevail throughout the Bible: a home and a people. Later God would come to Abraham with a Promised Land and promised descendants, and the Bible concludes with a picture of a glorified city, the New Jerusalem, in which God’s people will live forever in glory.
There are many advantages to an intelligent grasp of the biblical doctrine of the Creator and of His creation. It shows that God alone is God, and that the Eternal One has an eternal and all-inclusive plan for everything that happens in His creation. It restores meaning and hope to life. It has the massive advantage of refusing to grant divine attributes to anything that is less than God, whether the material world, humanity, or, especially relevant these days, the would-be omnicompetent state or world order. Creation by God is always the basis of resistance to statist (or ecclesiastical) tyranny. The biblical doctrine of creation also benefits us by showing that the God of order made a creation with orderly components, proper sequence, overall regularity, and intelligibility; these assumptions are the basis of all true science (as even non-Christian historians such as Alfred North Whitehead have argued). Genesis 1 and 2 also show us that God created all things ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31). This means that the material creation, including the human mind and body, are positive goods, not evils that we should seek to escape (as is taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age religions).