When taking a look at the first creation record, a good place to start is Genesis 1 v 3, which says, “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
If we were to think of Genesis chapter 1 as being literal, then we could soon be discussing Physics. We could talk about wavelengths, spectra, electron shells around atoms, quanta of energy and photons of light. But is this really appropriate?
On the other hand, a Bible based approach might ask something like, “How does the Bible use the idea of light?”
If we ask that question, then we soon find out that light is one of the big metaphors in the Bible. (Remember – a simile would say, “the sun was like and orange football rolling across the sky”, but a metaphor would say, “the sun is an orange football rolling across the sky”.)
Here are some examples of light used as a metaphor in the Bible.
1 Timothy 6 v 16 – (God) “... who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.”
John 8 v 12 - ”Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ “
Psalm 119 v 105 - “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Ephesians 5 v 8 - “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
In the Bible, light is a metaphor that is used to describe God and how he shows himself to mankind. So could Genesis 1 v 3 contain the first use of light as a metaphor in the Bible? When God said, “Let there be light”, is it speaking about God showing himself to mankind by casting his spiritual light upon them?
If we accept that light is being used as a metaphor in Genesis 1 v 3, then our understanding of the first creation record is inevitably pushed in a certain direction. It’s a bit like getting into one of those water flumes at a swimming pool. Once you start, there is only one place you are going to end up.
You see, if light is a metaphor, then so is darkness. And if light and darkness are metaphors, then so are day and night. And if all of those are metaphors, then so are the lights that appear in the heavens on the fourth day. And pretty soon you are left asking the question, if all of those are metaphors, then where does the metaphorical end and the literal begin? Or is the whole of the first creation record made up of metaphors? If that is the case, then the first creation record is an allegory (remember – an allegory is a piece of writing that is made up of metaphors, like the story of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians chapter 4.)
I believe that the first creation record is an allegory, and that the Bible helps us to understand what it represents.
We can’t go through all the study here (please download the complete study on the downloads page and read it), but I want to highlight the meaning of these parts of the first creation record:
The heavens and earth
The waters above and below the firmament
Great sea creatures
I then want to point out something that will help us to link together the first and second creation records.
Genesis 1 v 6 – 8 says that God made a firmament (Hebrew raqia) or stretching out, and that this divided the waters that were above it and below it. We can think of the firmament as being like the atmosphere which divides between two waters: the seas and the clouds.
Heavens are used in the Bible to describe God’s dwelling place, whereas the earth is where man resides. The difference between the heavens and the earth is not so much one of physical location, but one of status. God is everywhere, he’s not literally located in some far flung corner of the universe, so when the Bible speaks about him being in the heavens it is showing his relationship to mankind, who is on the earth. This is explained by Isaiah 66 v 1, “Thus says the Lord: ‘The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool’ (My translation).” Psalm 115 v 16 is also useful when it adds, “The heavens, heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth he has given to the children of men (My translation).” Ecclesiastes 5 v 2 continues this idea of status when it says, “For God is in the heavens, and you upon the earth, therefore let your words be few (My translation).” In summary, the heavens and the earth refer to the dwelling place of God and mankind respectively, not in terms of physical location but in terms of the difference in status between them.
We can regard the heavens, the place above the earth, as somewhere that is inhabited by the rulers of the earth. We already know that God dwells there, but the Bible tells us that men can be there as well.
Isaiah chapter 1 provides evidence for this with verse 2 saying, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!” Verse 10 explains what heavens and earth are in that verse because it also speaks about hearing and giving ear, but this time it doesn’t talk about heavens and earth, instead it talks about other things. It says, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah.” If we compare the two passages, we see that rulers are the equivalent of “heavens” and people are the equivalent of “earth”. It calls them Sodom and Gomorrah in this passage because verse 9 likens the nation of Judah to the wicked people who lived in those places during the days of Abraham and Lot.
Isaiah chapter 14 also indicates that men can dwell in the heavens and describes what they are. Isaiah 14 v 13 quotes the words of the king of Babylon (v 4), “For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into the heavens (my translation), I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north.” We get similar language at the start of Psalm 48 and see that it is describing places like Mount Zion (which is also described as being “on the sides of the north” in Psalm 48 v 2). If the king of Babylon succeeded in ascending into the heavens, he would be ruling over the land of promise and its people.
[Before we move on, it might be worth defining what I mean by “the land of promise”. In Genesis 15 v 18, Abraham (or Abram as he was called then) was told by God, “Unto your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”
This is what I mean by “the land of promise”. Looking at a map of the Middle East today, this would include parts of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as modern day Israel. The closest that Israel ever came to possessing this quantity of land was in the days of Solomon.
Although Abraham and his descendants have never occupied all this land, the Bible often looks forward to a time when they shall.]
The waters above and below the firmament
Concentrating on the waters below the firmament for a moment, the following passages indicate what their meaning is:
Isaiah 17 v 12 says, “Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas.” (This is a prophecy against the nations that threaten Israel.)
Isaiah 57 v 20 says, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”
In addition, the Book of Daniel describes four beasts or foreign empires that would rule over the land of promise, and these come out of the great sea. So Daniel 7 verses 2 - 3 say, “The four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.” This prophecy describes the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires that would arise and conquer the land of promise.
Finally, in his prophecy from the Mount of Olives, Jesus says, “And there will be signs in The Sun, in The Moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring (Luke 21 v 25).” The crashing of the sea is linked to the noise generated by anxious and agitated nations.
We know that the sea is literally a place of danger which sends waves on to the land. From the figurative uses of the sea in the Bible, we can understand it in Genesis chapter 1 as a metaphor for the ungodly nations that pound upon God’s land. The sound of the waters resembles a multitude of people and it doesn’t seem to be something that brings any benefits to the land.
If the waters under the firmament represent the nations surrounding something called earth or dry land, what do the waters above the firmament represent? On one level, these waters can fall on the land and bring benefits of abundant crops and fruitfulness. However, they can also bring destruction and hardship through things like hail and snow. What we find is that the waters above the firmament are used in scripture to describe the way that God influences people. Have a look at the following passages.
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55 v 10, 11).”
In this passage, we have a simile. God’s word is like the rain or the snow, and it achieves his purpose.
In Deuteronomy chapter 32 Moses addresses Israel and speaks about their God. In verse 2 he says, “Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as the showers on the grass.” This is a similar idea to Isaiah 55. God’s word, or teaching about him, is like rain that falls on the earth and produces fruit in those who hear it.
These passages lead to the conclusion that the waters above the firmament can be thought of as a metaphor for God’s spirit or purpose that influences the people who live on the earth. These waters can be contrasted with the waters below the firmament, which represent the nations surrounding the earth or dry land, and which also try to influence it by flowing over it and invading it.
Genesis 1 v 9, 10 says, ““Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”
The Hebrew word translated dry land (yabbashah) occurs 14 times in the Bible, and 7 of these either refer to Israel’s journey out of Egypt into the land of promise, or to Jonah’s deliverance from the sea.
One passage that describes the Exodus and speaks about the sea and dry land is Exodus 14 v 16. Before Israel crossed the Red Sea, Moses was commanded, “But lift up your rod and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground (Hebrew yabbashah) through the midst of the sea.“
The sea was a place of death, as we discover later in Exodus when Pharaoh and his chariots were swept away by it (Exodus 14 v 28). By comparison, the dry land was a place of safety that led eventually to the land that Israel were given by God.
The dry land that appeared was called “earth” (Genesis 1 v 10). Let’s summarise what we know about it.
It is associated with salvation, as we saw with Israel crossing the Red Sea, and with the deliverance of Jonah.
We know that the earth is where man lives, as opposed to the heavens, which is where God dwells (Psalm 115 v 16).
It is used to describe people who are subject to the rulers that are in the heavens (Isaiah chapter 1).
It is separate from the seas.
There are several opposites or antonyms in the first chapter of Genesis. We have light and darkness, then day and night and after that the waters above and below the firmament. In each case, we have something that represents God and something that does not. In the case of the seas and the dry land or earth, we seem to have something similar. God is not present in the seas, but he is on the dry land. One is a place of death, the other is one of salvation. Historically, we could view the earth as the land of promise, that is the land which was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Great sea creatures
In Genesis 1 v 20, 1 it says, “Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living thing that moves …”
Those who follow the literal approach to the first creation record often look at the phrase “great sea creatures” and equate it with things like whales or dinosaurs. But once we view the first creation record as an allegory, then we can find more convincing biblical explanations. Remember that the sea can be regarded as a metaphor for the nations surrounding God’s land, places where there is no knowledge of his salvation. This in turn guides our understanding of the great sea creatures.
The Hebrew word translated sea creatures, which I personally would render as something like predators, is tanninim, and is the plural form of the word tannin. However in my opinion, it can’t adequately be translated by a single English word, so even predator doesn’t really do it justice.
Let’s explore its meaning. There are two almost identical words in Hebrew that seem to have the same meaning, namely tannin and tannim. Ezekiel 29 v 3 and 32 v 2 speak of a tannim, which is some sort of creature that lives in the waters. We also have 14 other places where the Bible refers to a tannin.
Clues to the identity of the creature called tannim or tannin are given by Ezekiel 29 v 3 and Isaiah 51 v 9. These speak about the kingdom of Egypt and refer to it as being like the great tannim that lies in the midst of his rivers (Ezekiel 29 v 3). This is likely to be a reference to the Nile crocodile. We can add to these ideas the words of Ezekiel 32 v 2, which also describes Pharaoh, but says, “You are like a young lion among the nations, and you are like a monster (Hebrew tannim) in the seas.”
The Bible gives us further help in identifying the metaphorical significance of tannim or tannin, because it speaks elsewhere of vicious mighty creatures arising out of the sea and ruling over the land of promise. Daniel 7 v 3 – 7 describes four terrible creatures coming out of the sea, and these can be equated with the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires.
We can conclude that the Hebrew words tannin and tannim refer to predatory creatures. In Genesis chapter 1 they are aquatic, as they come from the waters. As a metaphor, they describe the aggressive rulers of kingdoms that arise from the ungodly nations of the world.
This is an important conclusion because the implication is that other animals listed in Genesis 1 could be people or groups of people as well. The complete study (see the downloads page) considers this in more detail and finds that this is the case. The idea of people being described as types of animals is not uncommon in scripture. We perhaps recall Jesus describing false prophets as wolves, or Israel being described as a flock of sheep.
If the animals in the first creation record are metaphors for various groups of people, then the identity of the man in the first creation record becomes clear, because he has dominion over them.
The meaning of the man in the first creation record comes about as a consequence of our understanding of what things like the fish, birds, cattle and creeping things are. If we identify them as metaphors for groups of people, then “man” describes someone who rules over them. Once we have taken this step, then the meaning of “man” is very clear – it is the Lord Jesus Christ, but it isn’t just him as an individual, it is Christ and all those who are saved through his sacrifice. The description of the man in Genesis chapter 1 gives clues to his identity.
The man is in the image of God (Genesis 1 v 26). It is Jesus who is described as being in the image of God in scripture (2 Corinthians 4 v 4, Colossians 1 v 15).
The man in Genesis 1 v 26 – 28 is not just the son of God, but is also made up of those who find salvation through him. In scripture, Jesus and his followers are described as a single man. Jesus is the head, and those who believe in him are his body (Romans 12 v 4; Ephesians 1 v 23; Ephesians 4 v 15 – 6). Christ is not just a man or him, but he is “them”, he is “male and female” (Genesis 1 v 27).
Genesis 1 v 26 is referred to in Psalm 8, which in turn links to the Lord Jesus Christ. Genesis 1 v 26 says that the man would have dominion over groups of animals, and in verses 6 – 8 of the psalm it says something similar about man and the son of man, “You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen – Even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.”
Notice that the psalmist explains that the son of man having dominion is the same as putting all things under his feet. When the idea of putting things under feet is used in the New Testament, it refers primarily to Jesus having dominion (see 1 Corinthians 15 v 27, Ephesians 1 v 22, Hebrews 2 v 8). We can add to this the words of Romans 16 v 20, where Paul tells his audience, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
This idea of Jesus having things put under his feet helps to identify him as the “man” and the “son of man” in Psalm 8. (The letter to the Hebrews also equates the “son of man” with Jesus, by quoting verses 4 – 6 of the psalm in Hebrews 2 v 6 – 8.) When we add to this the similarities between Psalm 8 and Genesis chapter 1 (the men in both passages are given dominion over animals), we have another indication that Genesis 1 v 26 – 8 is a description of Jesus Christ, who Paul calls “the last Adam”. This is different to “the first man Adam” (1 Corinthians 15 v 45), which we will find is the Adam mentioned in the second creation record in Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
The term “living creature” in the first creation record also gives a hint to the identity of the man in Genesis chapter 1. It is used to describe creatures that live in the waters, creatures that live on the earth and birds. It is even used to describe the man in the second creation record (Genesis 2 v 7). But it is not used to describe Adam in Genesis 1 v 26 – 8. This is more evidence that the man created on the sixth day is different to the one in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. It brings to mind the words of 1 Corinthians 15 v 45, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” This last Adam is the one who said, “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” (John 6 v 33) and, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life (John 6 v 63).” Adam in Genesis chapter 1 is more than someone who has life, he is someone who gives eternal life. He is not a living creature, he is a life giver.
If we treat the things mentioned in the first creation record as metaphors, then we end up with an allegory that sets out God’s purpose for mankind. In effect, it is a precis of the rest of the Bible. The allegory in Galatians chapter 4, which uses the story of Hagar and Sarah, also has a literal meaning, so we might expect the first creation record to be capable of a literal understanding. The larger study explores this further, and finds that it can be understood literally, however its main purpose is to set out God’s purpose for mankind.
Linking the first and second creation records
The way that certain words are used in the first creation record help us to understand how it relates to the other creation record that is set out in Genesis 2 and 3. The first time that the firmament is described, it is called “heavens” (Genesis 1 v 8), but after that it is called “the heavens”. Similarly, the first time that the dry land is described, it is called “earth” (Genesis 1 v 10), but after that it is referred to as “the earth”. The same thing happens with seas and man as well. The use of heavens and earth in Genesis 1 v 8 – 10) is how we can link the first and second creation records together. Other sections on this site explains this further.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(In instances where scripture is not from the New King James Version, it will be labelled “my translation”.)