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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Genesis

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Text Commentary side-by-side
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

1.1–2.3 : Creation culminating in sabbath.

This Priestly account of creation presents God as a divine ruler, creating the universe by decree in six days and resting on the seventh.

1.1 :

Scholars differ on whether this verse is to be translated as an independent sentence summarizing what follows (e.g., “In the beginning God created”) or as a temporal phrase describing what things were like when God started (e.g., “When God began to create … the earth was a formless void”; cf. 2.4–6 ). In either case, the text does not describe creation out of nothing (contrast 2 Macc 7.28 ). Instead, the story emphasizes how God creates order from a watery chaos.

2 :

As elsewhere in the Bible, the deep (Heb “tehom”) has no definite article (“the”) attached to it in the Heb. Some see “tehom” here to be related to the Babylonian goddess Tiamat, a divinity representing oceanic chaos, whom the head god, Marduk, defeated in Enuma Elish, a major Babylonian creation story. Christian interpreters have tended to see the “Spirit” of the Trinity later in this verse. Wind fits the ancient context better (see 8.1 ).

3 :

The first of eight acts of creation through decree. Like a divine king God pronounces his will and it is accomplished.

4–5 :

These verses introduce two other themes crucial to this account: the goodness of creation and the idea that creation is accomplished through God's separating, ordering, and naming elements of the universe. The seven‐day scheme of 1.1–2.3 requires the creation of light, day, and night at the outset. Since in some traditions the Jewish day began with sundown, the order is evening and morning.

6–8 :

The dome/Sky made on the second day separates an upper ocean (Ps 148.4; see Gen 7.11 ) from a lower one. This creates a space in which subsequent creation can take place.

9–13 :

Two creative acts: creation of dry land and command of that land to bring forth vegetation. Earth is a feminine noun in Heb. The text thus echoes other ancient mythologies and the life cycle in having a feminine earth bring forth the first life in the universe (cf. Job 1.21 ). God is only involved indirectly here, commanding the earth to put forth.

14–19 :

There is a correspondence between days one to three and days four to six (1 ∥ 4, 2 ∥ 5, 3 ∥ 6), which heightens the symmetry and order of God's creation. Here, God's creation of heavenly lights on the fourth day corresponds to creation of light, day, and night on the first. In a critical response to non-Israelite cultures who worshiped these heavenly bodies, the bodies are not named and are identified as mere timekeepers.

20–23 :

See vv. 14–19n. Where the second day featured the dome separating upper and lower oceans, the fifth day features the creation of birds to fly across the dome and ocean creatures, including sea monsters (Ps 104.25–26 ). God's blessing of the swarming creatures ( 1.22 ) anticipates a similar blessing that God will give humanity ( 1.28 ).

24–30 :

See vv. 14–19n . Where the third day involved creation of land and plants in turn, this sixth day involves the creation of two types of plant-eating land-dwellers: animals and then humans.

24–25 :

Again, earth is involved in bringing forth life (see 1.9–13n. ).

26 :

The plural us, our ( 3.22; 11.7 ) probably refers to the divine beings who compose God's heavenly court (1 Kings 22.19; Job 1.6 ). Image, likeness is often interpreted to be a spiritual likeness between God and humanity. Another view is that this text builds on ancient concepts of the king physically resembling the god and thus bearing a bodily stamp of his authority to rule. Here this idea is democratized, as all of humanity appears godlike. This appearance equips humans for godlike rule over the fish, birds, and animals.

27–28 :

The text stresses the creation of humanity as simultaneously male and female. This leads to the emphasis in the blessing of v. 28 and the book of Genesis as a whole on the multiplication of humanity in general ( 6.1; 9.1–7 ) and Israel in particular ( 17.2–6; 47.27 ).

29–30 :

The text envisions an ancient mythological time before violence disturbs God's perfect order (cf. 6.11 ).

31 :

Where individual elements of creation were “good” (vv. 4,10 , etc.), the whole is very good, perfectly corresponding to God's intention.

2.1–3 :

This day is the point to which the whole seven‐day scheme has led. God does not command the sabbath, but does rest (Heb “shabat”) on the seventh day and bless it, weaving the seven‐day rhythm into creation. The “creation” of institutions is found in other ancient creation stories as well.

2.4a : Probably not the conclusion

of the Priestly creation story, but a separate superscription introducing the following material, as elsewhere in Genesis (e.g., 5.1; 6.9; 10.1 ).

2.4b–25 : Creation in a garden.

This tradition, often identified as J, is different from 1.1–2.3 , as evidenced by the different style and order of events. Though distinct from the Priestly account of 1.1–2.3 , it nevertheless reflects ancient temple imagery.

4b–6 :

A description of how things were prior to creation (cf. 1.1–2 ) is common in ancient Near Eastern creation stories.

7 :

The word play on Heb “'adam” (human being; here translated “man” [cf. 1.26 ]) and “_adamah” (arable land; here ground) introduces a motif characteristic of this tradition: the relation of humankind to the soil from which it was formed. Human nature is not a duality of body and soul; rather God's breath animates the dust and it becomes a single living being (Ps 104.29; Job 34.14–15 ).

8–9 :

Eden means “delight.” This divine garden recalls the “garden of God/the LORD” mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible ( 13.10; Ezek 28.13–16; 31.8–9; Isa 51.3; Joel 2.3 ), and such sacred gardens are known in other ancient Near Eastern temple traditions. In addition, ancient Near Eastern art and texts feature a prominent focus on trees, often associated with feminine powers of fertility. Usually such trees symbolize life, as in the tree of life here ( 3.22; see Prov 3.18; Rev 22.2,14,19 ). But this story focuses more on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, symbolizing wisdom (2 Sam 14.17; 1 Kings 3.9 ). See 12.6–8n .

10–14 :

This section, along with the preceding one describing the “stream” rising up to water the ground ( 2.6 ), may draw on the ancient tradition that a temple is built on a primal mountain of creation from which the waters of the earth flow. The rivers mentioned here combine world rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates (both in Mesopotamia) with the local Gihon that flowed from Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Ps 46.4; Isa 7.6; Zech 14.8 ), although Cush is generally either Ethiopia or in Arabia. Pishon is unknown; Havilah is probably in Arabia.

16–17 :

The speech concludes with a legal prohibition using technical death-penalty language (see Lev 20.9,11,12, etc.).

18–20 :

Animals are created after the first human rather than before (cf. 1.24–25 ). The human's naming of the animals implies a dominion over them analogous to that seen in 1.26–28 . Yet the LORD God here contrasts with the all-powerful deity depicted in ch 1 . The LORD God creates the animals in a comical, failed attempt to make a helper for the human that “corresponds to him” (compare as his partner in the NRSV of vv. 18,20 ).

21–23 :

Just as the connection of humanity to the ground is affirmed in the making of the first human (“᾽adam”) from earthy “humus” (“᾽adamah”) ( 2.7 ), so also the connection of men and women is affirmed here through the crowning event of creation: the making of the woman from a part of the man ( 2.21–22 ). The man affirms this connection in a jubilant poem ( 2.23 ) featuring a word play on “man” (“᾽ish”) and “woman” (“᾽ishah”). This concluding song of praise of the woman corresponds to God's concluding affirmation of all of creation as “very good” in 1.31 .

24–25 :

Sex between a man and his wife is regarded here as reflecting the essence of the connection God created between men and women. The unashamed nakedness of the man and woman indicates their still uncivilized status.

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