We think we understand the Bible, but do we really? Take the first line of the first book; Genesis 1:1. The King James Version reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Simple enough? But the matter is not so simple, because the original Hebrew, of which this is a translation, is more nuanced.

The Hebrew says /bereshit bara/which can better be understood as a conditional clause, something like “at the beginning of creating”, or “in the beginning of God’s creating,” which is telling not so much of an absolute time – in the beginning – but of the start of a process. The result of this nuanced understanding is the new translation of the Jewish Publication Society, which renders this verse simply as “When God began to create heaven and earth….” .

We may approach the issue another way by asking what exactly was created? If one reads Genesis 1:1 in the traditional King James way, the implication is that everything was created, that there was nothing before this act “in the beginning.” The technical term for this is the Latin /creatio ex nihilo/, creation from nothing. This view is first recorded in the Apocrypha, in II Maccabes 7:28, which says specifically that “God did not make them out of things that existed,” and has become the traditional interpretation over the ages.

But the text of Genesis itself seems to say that something indeed existed before creation, for “the earth was formless and void and darkness was on the face of the deep.” That seems to mean that the earth was there, even if  formless and void, and the deep was there, even if we don’t know what that meant.

This discussion has a surprisingly modern ring to it.  Are we talking about The Big Bang? Even that started with something that exploded. That something was there before the explosion. There was always something here. Modern physics does not allow for a situation where there was nothing.

The writers of Genesis were onto a profound truth of modern physics: there was never nothing. And the creation that began was, in fact, the beginning of a process. That is, “the beginning” is the beginning of TIME.

Author:  Walter Zanger