The biblical accounts of the creation of the world have their background in ancient Near Eastern mythology, in which creation is often depicted as the deity's victory over the forces of chaos, represented by threatening waters, as a result of which the god is established as a supreme king. A large number of references (e.g., Pss. 74.12–17; 89.9–13) show that this concept was well‐known in Israel also. Its immediate source was probably Canaanite mythology, and it was particularly associated with the Jerusalem Temple, where it seems likely that God's victory over primeval chaos and his royal enthronement were celebrated in a great annual festival.

Since the extended descriptions of creation in the first chapters of Genesis similarly reflect this background (See Myth), they are not to be viewed as providing a scientific account of the origin of the universe. They are religious statements, designed to show God's glory and greatness, the result of theological reflection by which the older mythology was radically transformed to express Israel's distinctive faith. The two accounts found together in these chapters, Genesis 1.1–2.4a and 2.4b–25, both tell of the creation of the physical world and the creation of humanity, though these were originally independent elements. The first account is generally considered to be from the hand of a sixth‐century BCE priestly writer (P) who, however, depends on a much older tradition. In form it is a poem or a hymn, as the repeated refrain indicates, and its seven‐day structure may be due to its having been recited during the period of the annual festival mentioned above. Although the watery chaos is still there, there is no conflict between it and God, as in ancient myth. God creates in unfettered freedom by his word or command, and creation is brought about by the separation of the elements of the universe, which produces an ordered and habitable world. Hence creation is not so much dealing with absolute beginning, creation from nothing—though this idea appears later, as in 2 Maccabees 7.28—as with the world order as perceived by human beings. An originally separate account of the creation of humankind (Gen. 1.26–30)—it does not appear as creation through the word—has been added to show human beings as the crown of creation. Humanity too is created by separation into male and female made in the image of God, a much discussed expression that probably means that God makes beings with whom he can communicate and who can respond, because, in contrast to the rest of nature, they are like him. So humanity receives the divine blessing and is given the role of God's vice‐regent, in language drawn from kingship vocabulary, to have dominion or control over the future course of the world. The final verses, which tell of God's seeing all he has made and his rest on the Sabbath, emphasize the completeness and perfection of the created order.

The outlook of the second creation account (generally attributed to J) is essentially similar but its form is very different. It is older and it is a folktale, reflecting the concerns and interests of a peasant society, and God is described in human terms; but behind its apparent naïveté lie profound insights. It deals primarily with the creation of humanity, and the creation of the world is directed to providing a suitable agricultural environment for human beings. God molds the first man (See Adam) from the dust of the ground, an idea found in many other cultures; that is, he is part of the natural order, but he is given a unique status when God breathes into him the divine breath and he becomes a living being. His naming of the animals means that he appropriates them, corresponding to the notion of dominion in Genesis 1, and the command about the trees in the garden implies responsibility toward his maker, which is part of what is meant by humanity as the image of God. No doubt the fact that woman (See Eve) is created secondarily from man corresponds to the position of the male in a patriarchal society. Yet even more strongly the story stresses the unity of the sexes and their mutual, complimentary need. So the first creation account, with its cultic background, ends with the religious institution of the Sabbath; the second, which is directed to humankind in community, with the social institution of marriage.

Explicit references to creation may appear to be comparatively rare in the Bible. But the creation accounts in Genesis are the starting point for the history that follows and are inseparably linked with it in the biblical narrative. The prophets and the wisdom literature also both presuppose a comprehensive world order to which they summon men and women to conform. There are, however, two particular developments in later texts to which special attention may be called.

First, the idea grows that the goal of history is to be a new creation, a return to the beginning when the creator's original intention, frustrated by human sin and rebellion, will be fulfilled. The visions of the end of time are pictured in terms of the first things. Such is a dominant theme in the later chapters of Isaiah (e.g., 65.17; 66.22), and it is further developed in succeeding apocalyptic literature.

Second, in certain parts of the wisdom tradition, Wisdom comes to be represented as already existing before the creation of the world and, parallel to the divine word in Genesis 1, the means of God's creative activity (e.g., Job 28.12–27). Wisdom can be strongly personified and viewed as God's personal agent in creation (Prov. 8.22–31); in Sirach 24.3 the figure of Wisdom is identified both with the word of Genesis 1 and the primary act of creation in Genesis 2.6.

It is these two developments that determine the way in which the idea of creation is transposed into a new key in the New Testament. The New Testament writers inherited the Jewish belief in the creation of the world by the one God and frequently appeal to the ordering of the world and human life that he established at the beginning (e.g., Mark 10.6; Rom. 1.20). But the advent of Christ inaugurates the long awaited new creation (Rev. 21.1–4), both of the universe (Rom. 8.19–21) and of humanity (2 Cor. 5.17). This comes about because, on the one hand, Jesus recapitulates the former creation: he is the new Adam (1 Cor. 15.45), and the image and likeness of God (Col. 1.15; 2 Cor. 4.4). On the other hand, Christ is the agent and sustainer of all creation (Col. 1.16) and is described as the word of God (Rev. 19.13) and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1.24). But it is the figure of creative Wisdom that seems to have been most influential for the understanding of Jesus; so, like Wisdom, he is preexistent (Col. 1.17) and the reflection of God's glory (Heb. 1.3; compare Wisd. of Sol. 7.24). Most striking is the first chapter of John's gospel, the opening words of which echo the beginning of Genesis, with its picture of Jesus as the Logos. This term unites the concept of the creative word of the Hebrew Bible and, from its use in Greek philosophy, the concept of Wisdom as the mediator in creation.

J. R. Porter