The biblical myth of the origin of the universe. There are two accounts in Genesis of the creation by God. Neither deals with the question whether the creation was out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo); the first (Gen. 1: 1–2: 3) which was compiled later, the P source, supposes the pre‐existence of an abyss of infinite and formless waters, a chaos out of which God creates order; in the second, and earlier, story, the J source, God forms Adam from the soil of a damp, barren plain (Gen. 2: 6) but there is nothing about an existing chaos of waters.
There are parallels to the first account with a Canaanite and with a Babylonian creation epic but the biblical author has skillfully refined his picture. There is no longer a story of a god in combat with primordial matter (though there are traces of this elsewhere in the OT, as in Pss. 29 and 104 and Job 38–41): the divine command creates the world, and its inhabitants are made in six days, culminating in the creation of man and woman (Gen. 1: 26–7). The seventh day is assigned for God to rest and contemplate his work.
In the J account man's creation precedes that of plants, animals—and woman (Gen. 2: 22). The scene is of a garden, or park, paradise, in a location named Eden which enjoys the water of four great rivers, Tigris and Euphrates and two which defy exact identification, Pishon and Gihon. In the garden are trees which are beautiful to look at and generous with their food (Gen. 2: 9) but among them are the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, knowledge gained by experience, whose fruits the man is forbidden to taste (Gen. 2: 17) on pain of death.
In the NT Christ is regarded as God's agent in creation (Col. 1: 15–16), taking up the OT concept of Wisdom through whom the world was made (Prov. 8: 25–7) and conveying the suggestion that creation reflects an obedience to the laws of God as Christ was obedient to the Father. The coming of Christ is understood as marking the beginning of a new creation of humanity (2 Cor. 5: 17) and of the whole universe (Rom. 8: 19–21). Although there is a revival in fundamentalist works of ‘creationism’ which regards the OT creation myths as in some sense historical and to be preferred to scientific theories of the evolution of species over immense eras of time, most modern readers of the OT reject this as incredible since it rests on a misunderstanding of the genre of the Genesis narratives, which is deeply theological. By the eight‐times repeated ‘And God said, Let there be…’ the purpose is to assert that everything that exists does so because of the will of the Creator. A literal, mistaken, interpretation is an abuse of scripture. The stories of Adam and Eve and the Fall are to be regarded as parables expressing insight into the relationship between God and humanity, and should be put into the appropriate literary genre, which is not that of history. Modern ‘creationism’ undermines the affirmation that God works through, not outside, the laws of nature in both initiating and sustaining the whole created order.