God (Genesis 1:1-3)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

In the beginning. It sounds so simple, yet behind it lurk many of the ultimate questions of philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. Unfortunately, it is often the sad duty of the exegete to penetrate the sublime in pursuit of the tedious. The moment we begin to ponder the phrase, its cloud like simplicity dissipates to reveal rugged mountain peaks. In the beginning of what? Many readers may have never specifically asked themselves this question, but most have an answer in their heads. We realize that it is not the beginning of God and therefore not the beginning of everything. Is the author suggesting a beginning of something abstract, such as time or history? Is it perhaps a more scientific beginning like the beginning of matter or the universe? Is it possible that we are trying too hard and that the beginning is literary? What about something more personal: our beginning as a human race? Before we pursue the answer to this question, however, we need to consider our methodological assumptions. The questions just posed work on the assumption that the word beginning must indicate the beginning of something. But does the Hebrew usage carry the same implication? One of the greatest obstacles we face in trying to interpret the Bible is that we are inclined to think in our own cultural and linguistic categories. This is no surprise, since our own categories are often all that we have; but it is a problem because our own categories often do not suffice and sometimes mislead. The fact that the Hebrew word can be translated in the beginning does not mean we can now be content to explore the English word beginning in English terms and categories.

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