In the Beginning God GE 1:1
By Dr. R. Bruce Montgomery
I enjoy and have benefited from learning stories of Jesus and the apostles, studying the theological teachings of Paul and practical day-to-day instructions of James. But why GENESIS?
Because it is a key to understanding Bible. Will never really understand how the Bible fits together unless you start at the beginning. Cf. NEW TRIBES approach, the Firm Foundations course we taught to both children and adults, in English and Spanish over a two year period.
Missionaries had discovered that often there were great movements of people coming to Christ from animistic or Buddhist backgrounds. But often not lasting - after a period of time they reverted to practicing their former religion.
Realized that they needed to build a foundation for understanding the gospel instead of just rushing to give the "answer" to man’s most pressing need out of their eagerness to share the gospel.
They had tried various approaches and means before, but now it occurred to them to teach the same way God revealed his nature, character and program in Scripture - progressively.
And so they developed a set of lesson plans called "Firm Foundations. This chronological, panoramic approach has proven to be an effective means of bringing people to salvation and grounding believers - not just in jungles, in the towns and cities of the West.
Their curriculum to reach non-Christians with the message of salvation begins where we are starting today. At the beginning. Genesis 1:1.
When God wrote the Bible, he didn’t give us a theology book divided into sections labeled "God," "Creation," "Man," "Sin," "Salvation," "Sanctification," etc.
Instead, He gave us a story, a narrative that begins in eternity past and ends in eternity future. As we read these narratives, we learn a great deal about God, ourselves, and our world.
This ancient book, written approximately 3500 years ago, has a wealth of benefit to us living in the 21st century.
As we unwrap and enjoy delving into the chapters and verses of Genesis we will discover themes and life applications that are VERY relevant for life today. Its themes are significant: in these pages we find unconditional love, forgiveness, redemption, healing, purpose. Reveals who we are and why we’re here.
You will find it helpful in your personal relationships, in your marriage and family, on your job. Will gives you tools for handling catastrophic illness, financial crises, the death of loved one. Will help you with wounds you may be carrying from abandonment or betrayal or belittlement by others. Will address the restlessness in your soul; your fears and your hopes for a brighter future. But there is MORE – though there is great personal benefit from studying Genesis, that is not the main reason to do so.
Like the works of all good authors, this book we call the Bible was designed by its author for a purpose. We assume that the author is not simply cutting and pasting a jumbled combination of random thoughts or unrelated sources. Rather, he is writing with a specific purpose in mind, and each segment of text is intentionally chosen and placed in its proper place to contribute to that purpose. It has a plot. It has progression. It has movement.
BIBLE’s authorship: written at two levels. Many human authors put pen to its words over many centuries, covering millennia of history. But at a higher level that author of the entire work is God, who through a process we call "inspiration" was overseeing and directing the whole project, from beginning to end.
While we attribute the authorship of Genesis to Moses, the REAL author was God himself.
While early and reliable tradition ascribed the authorship of the first five books of the Bible to Moses, and Jesus and the NT writers believed Moses was their author, should not lose sight of the fact that the Pentateuch itself comes to us as an anonymous work and was apparently intended to be read as such. It is GOD’S story, and is to be read as such, and so the human authors are not even mentioned in the pages of Genesis
We tend to put man center stage. But Bible has God as the chief subject. He is center stage. Need to approach it as God’s story of his work, his planned encounter with man, instead of the other way around. Normally have approached it as people and their encounter with God - can miss the story if we aren’t looking at the main character.
It all starts with God
When we hear the word "God," our minds typically jump immediately to what God can do for us. If we are Christians, we remember that God saves us, and we are truly grateful. But is this self-centered perspective really the proper place to start?
Rick Warren’s book "Purpose Driven Life" (Zondervan, 2002) - favorite chapter is the first, entitled "It All Starts with God." First line (p. 17): "It’s not about you." Goes on: "The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose."
Next page (page 18) : "Many people try to use God for their own self-actualization, but that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, and not vice-versa, and life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not your using him for your own purpose."
How can we know God?
Over the millennia of human existence we have forgotten who God is! In fact, we have strayed so far that many people even wonder whether God is.
How can we answer the questions of "who is God," and even "is there a God?"
First is speculation
We can search for God and truth and guidance in man-made philosophies, horoscopes, Ouija boards, good feelings, inner experiences, or altered states of consciousness. But how can we validate their truth claims? How can we know for certain that we have discovered God, and not merely deceived ourselves?
Second option is revelation
In Genesis, the starting point is revelation. Revelation is about God making himself known: through his creation, through Scripture, ultimately through his Son, and to us through the Holy Spirit.
Revelation shifts the focus from self-centeredness onto God. It insists that both individuals and communities find their true meaning only when they come into relationships with God.
Without apologies or embarrassment or being naive, I accept that the Bible is a supernatural book. It is true and authoritative. Therefore its affirmations about God himself are unassailable. If I want to know who God is, I go to Scripture. Praise God there is a place to find out about God that is reliable.
Existence of God
Scripture never sets out to prove the existence of God. It assumes the existence of God. The universe is the affidavit of his existence.
What is "God"
We use the word "God" frequently. What does it mean?
Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary, first definition: "The one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe."
Can we really define God? In the truest sense of a definition, by which we clarify the boundaries of something so it can be placed in a known category and compared to other things, NO! God is not an object that can fit into manmade categories.
There can be no adequate or accurate defining the one who is incomprehensible, incomparable and unique. Our minds and language fail us, and we cannot accurately specify the limits of someone who transcends measurement in time and space.
Suppose your best friend is Alice. Now suppose I ask you to define Alice. You begin to describe her- her physical characteristics, her age, her personality, her accomplishments, her likes and dislikes.
“But wait ,” I say. “I didn’t ask for you to describe her, I asked for you to define her.”
But it is almost impossible to define a person, because unlike an object, a person is much more than something to be placed into categories. If it is hard to define a human being, how much harder it is to define the divine being that Paul describes as "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see." I Timothy 6:15,16.
The best we can really do is make attempts to describe him. And it is fitting to describe the essence, the person, the nature, the attributes of the One who is worthy of our worship.
• He is uncreated, the source and end of all things;
• he is insurmountable in presence, knowledge, power.
• He is the eternal spirit who in love freely creates, sustains and governs all things.
The Names by Which God Reveals Himself
We make our first mistake in attempting to define God or describe God if we think of "God" as a common noun rather than a personal noun. "God" is a name, the way of addressing a person.
Names are important. One of the first things we want to discover when we meet a person is what his/her name is
We all have several names or titles to which we respond. How people address us reveal something about the nature of their connection to us. At church I’m called "pastor Bruce or pastor Montgomery." Sometimes when I’m being introduced it is as "Dr. Montgomery." Among friends and peers I am called "Bruce." My wife calls me "honey." My children call me "dad." My granddaughter calls me "Gompa." If my dog could talk, she’d call me "master." If someone calls my home phone and asks, "Is Robert there?" I know they’re either calling from the dentist or doctor or selling something (Robert is my first name, used on legal and official documents).
A primary means of self-revelation is a person’s name. Our names tell people something fundamental about us. Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself through various names or titles - both those he used to identify and describe himself and those others ascribed to him.
MANY names, titles, descriptions of God in the Bible.
All OT names for God are built around two core names: "El," (the more general and universal term) and "Yahweh" (the more personal and covenantal term). The particular name or title that appears in a particular text is not accidental on the part of the author. It depends on who is using it, the context in which it is spoken, and the purpose for which it is used. .
"El" primarily means "first," and indicates that God is the strong and mighty one. Usually used in compound constructions such as El Shaddai (God Almighty) or El Elyon (God Most High). We will discuss Yahweh and its compound forms later as we encounter them).
Here, in Genesis 1:1 the name by which God first chooses to reveal himself is Elohim, the plural of El. Common, occurs 2570 times in O.T.
Though technically plural, often translated in singular. Some scholars believe it points to triune nature of God (for e.g. in 1:26 God (Elohim) said, "let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.")
Others hold that the plural simply intensifies the subject, indicating God’s supremacy. I believe there is at least a "hint" of both in this opening phrase of Scripture. The entire body of Scripture definitely reveals both God’s triune nature and his supremacy over all.
When the Jewish people used Elohim it acknowledged that God contains within himself all the divine attributes. Surrounded by cultures that were predominantly polytheistic, it was no small thing to assert that God alone is the true God. He is God in the absolute sense - apart from him none other has the properties of "God."
In Chapter 2 when God gets personally involved with the creation of man and woman we get introduced to the dual name - Yahweh Elohim (Lord God). Will be the term of choice in his dealings with his covenant people Israel. Here, at the beginning, to the wider audience of all people, uses the universal term that connotes power and authority - revealing himself as the one true God of all that is.
Before the world began
From everlasting God was God most glorious; he existed in the holy communion we label the trinity, and knew himself fully. But as yet he had no name, nor a need for a name. For a name is that by which someone is revealed to others, and until his power called into being the hosts of heaven, God was God alone, and there were none to whom he could be known. But then came
“The beginning.” The beginning of what? Of the world, the universe, and time as we know it. Some make the mistake of equating the "beginning" with the beginning of God. But God has always existed, he has no beginning, no end.
Moses (same author, there named) wrote in Ps 90:2 - "Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God."
In spite of its name, "Genesis," which means "beginning," and in spite of its position as the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis isn’t the beginning of everything.
Before Genesis, when God spoke the universe into existence, he existed in sublime glory.
• He was and is totally self-sufficient, needing nothing more than himself to exist or to act.
• God was and is infinite. He has no limitations in either space or time.
• He was and is immutable - he can’t change, nor does he need to, for he is perfect - he can’t improve in any way!
What was God doing prior to the beginning? We can only gain hints from Scripture as to his activity. We do know for certain one thing he was doing.
In "eternity" before time began, God planned redemption. It wasn’t an afterthought. As Paul writes in Eph. 1:4.God’s people were chosen in Christ "before the creation of the world." In Rev. 13:8 we read of the "lamb slain before the foundation of the world."
Here is the wonder of it, the mystery, and the greatest blessing God has given to mankind. This vast, incomprehensible, uncontainable, eternal, totally other, self-sufficient God has chosen to reveal himself to us.
And not just to reveal himself, but to invite us to know him! Him! The God of the universe! He offers to be my God, and your God.
Have you taken God to be your God? Not to be merely a name, not even a sacred name to sing about and pray to - but as truly God to you?
Is God your God? For if he is, he will rule your entire being! No one is truly converted until he/she takes his/her right place in relationship to him. The child of God does more than acknowledge his existence - he/she submits to his authority, and gives him the throne of their heart.
How do you know if you are truly a child of God? We often oversimplify - say, "just ask Jesus into your heart. Invite him to be your Savior." That is correct, but it doesn’t finish the thought. The child of God doesn’t just "invite" God into their heart and give him an honored place among other objects of one’s affections.
It’s not so hard to add him to the things we hold most dear. But to put him in charge of all we are, everything we do? No way, we want to retain control.
Keeping oneself in first place is to deify self, placing self above God, and is an insult to the Lord. The one who truly believes and trusts in God totally abandons himself to God, making him first and solely the one in authority and power.
To many people, God is just a name - nothing more. But when he really becomes God to you - sovereign, supreme, creator, redeemer, savior and Lord - i.e. when he occupies the place that his being God really means, then you are truly converted.
Here is our statement of faith, whether we have been a Christian for decades or hours - we look, like Thomas, at Jesus. Our doubts are settled, and we have come to a sure conviction that he is indeed "My Lord and my God."
God is the beginning for creation of the world, and the universe and time.
And he is the beginning point for the new creation – the child of God.
Can you say, do you believe, “My Lord and my God?”