Words do not always mean what you or I think they do. We learn to use words to refer to various things and events through the ordinary experiences of daily life. But what happens when a person has an extraordinary experience which no one else has ever had? In order to communicate that experience to others, words will have to be drawn from the ordinary experiences of life and applied to this extraordinary experience in a such a way that they will mean something that is in some way different from their ordinary meaning.
Now let us suppose that someone has a series of visions of the creation of the universe and sets out to communicate to others what he saw and what it all means. I believe that that is precisely the problem that the writer of Genesis chapter one was faced with. Even if he chooses his words very carefully, it is still the case that many if not all the people who read them will not understand what he intends them to mean. People will draw on their own experience and interpret his words in a way in which he never intended.
Is there any way to avoid this trap? Yes, but you must proceed slowly and carefully and avoid the temptation to impose your own understanding on these words, or the meaning which some other interpreter has given them, and seek only to discern what the original meaning was.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Before the creation begins, God first reveals that even though the heavens and the earth do not yet exist in reality, they do pre-exist in the vast field of possibilities and potentialities which constitutes the deep that only the mind of God can fathom. The words 'deep', 'wind', and 'waters' normally refer to physical things, but here they do not because those material things do not yet exist. These words refer to the state of affairs which exists prior to the creation of the material universe, and that is their original meaning in this passage.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
So the stage is set, and where there was only darkness, God creates light. Now light is a form of energy and energy can be converted into matter in accordance with the well known principles of modern physics. This whole processes as it happened during the first moments of the creation of the universe is what is now commonly called the Big Bang. However, the creation of matter remains implicit here because our visionary only tells us about what he can see and individual particles of matter are too small to be seen. What happens next is that the matter begins to clump together and massive stars are formed surrounded by luminous clouds of hydrogen and helium. As the universe continues to expand these stars and the nebula around them become more distinct and separate as darkness reappears between them.
This is the first generation of the universe and it lasts until the beginning of the second generation. The vision, however took place in one day. What began in darkness concluded in light and there was evening and morning the first day.
And God said, “let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
The second day of revelation begins in the evening with a vision of a vast swirling cloud. There is only one word available to describe something that is not a solid and that is 'water'. This cloud condenses to form an inner core that we would call a planet surrounded by an atmosphere that looks like a dome covering the planet. The first planets to be formed probably looked something like Neptune or Venus. The surfaces of these planets appear to be flowing because of the dense layers of clouds which cover them. There is no solid earth anywhere that can be seen. These planets are important however because they mark the beginning of a new generation in the creation of the universe. Most of the old giant stars have exploded into supernovas and the elements created by nuclear fusion inside them like oxygen, carbon, silicon, and iron are being released to form smaller more stable stars surrounded by planets. This is the second generation of the universe. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation; plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation; plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
The vision of the third generation of the universe is of a different kind of planet. It has a surface of rock and an abundance of water. Over time tectonic forces raise up continents and leave basins between them that fill with water. It is worth noting that God names the dry land Earth and the large bodies of water Seas. He does not name the planet 'Earth' nor does he name it 'Seas'. This is the first planet in the universe able to support life as we know it. God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation.” This implies a natural process that can be repeated where ever life is possible.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was morning and there was evening the fourth day.
The fourth generation of the universe is marked by the creation of the sun, moon, and most of the stars that make up our galaxy. The interesting thing is that the Earth was also created at this time, but our visionary assumed that he saw the creation of the Earth in the preceding visions. The Earth, however was not a part of the early universe. It is essentially the same age as the Sun and the rest of the planets in the solar system. Our visionary was thinking in accord with the ancient geocentric cosmology that has the Earth at the center of the universe and everything else going around it. But that is just the way in which things appear to someone looking out at the rest of the universe from the Earth. Since the Earth is not at the center of the universe it does not have to be created first either. It can be created with the rest of the solar system when the universe is a lot less violent. This has enabled the Earth to produce an abundance of life over a relatively long period of time.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth .” And there was evening and there was morning the fifth day.
The fifth generation of the universe involves the creation of the first sentient creatures. First those that live in the sea, and then the amphibians and reptiles, and finally the birds which are the most highly developed members of this line of living things. As sense organs and nervous systems developed to produce a brain, animals have gained an ever increasing levels of consciousness and have exhibited more complex patters of behavior.
The Earth may not be the only place in the universe that has animals, but it is the the only place that we know of that has an abundance of animal life that has managed to not only survive but thrive over a long period of time.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind; cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the earth of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The sixth generation of the universe was marked by the creation of mammals and human beings. God again commands the earth to bring forth living creatures. In contrast, God creates humankind directly with a nature that goes beyond just the ability to respond to material things through our senses. Humans are given a share in the divine life which includes the intellectual power to understand abstract ideas and immaterial concepts. And because we can understand the principles of goodness, truth, and freedom, we are not merely the end product of material forces. Rather, we can choose to act according to what we know is right. In this way, we participate in the divine life that is immaterial and timeless. Human beings are the bridge that spans the gap between the immaterial and the material. We are animals, but animals created in the image and likeness of God.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished,and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
The work of creation is now complete. There is no vision of the seventh day because it is not a new generation and there is nothing new to be seen. The writer of Genesis One is inspired however to link the seventh day with the concept of the sabbath that was revealed to Moses. He concludes by affirming that each of the days of creation marked the beginning of a new generation. We are a part of the sixth generation, and it will continue until it has fulfilled God's plan for creation.