““Create” (Hebrew bara) Concerns Functions”
One word that I have found interesting to examine in my study of biblical Hebrew is the verb bara, a verb that appears about 50 times in the Old Testament (and a few instances of note in Genesis 1) and is typically translated ‘create.’ The interest in it comes from the fact that this verb concerns an action which is only ever an action performed by God—if a human being makes something, a different verb is used. So in the Old Testament, if bara is used, the activity is inherently divine and humans cannot participate. Walton, with extensive discussion, contends, I believe rightfully so, that bara is a verb that is not only inherently divine, but also concerns creation within the aforementioned functional ontology.
“The Beginning State in Genesis 1 Is Nonfunctional”
If it is true that the creation account in Genesis 1 speaks not to material creation but to functional creation, then it is also true that the chaos that is spoken of in 1:2 is most certainly a chaos that is nonfunctional, or even anti-functional. The two Hebrew words that are typically translated “formless and void” (tohu and bohu) are another source of proof which Walton employs for support of his position. The word bohu is rare, and it is difficult to pinpoint a meaning for it, although its semantic range deals with ‘nothingness.’ Tohu appears more often in the Old Testament, and its semantic range deals not so much with nothingness but with a state of nothing useful—unproductivity. So the phrase of what the world was pre-Genesis 1 was not so much that there was nothing (although I fully believe in creation ex nihilo) but that whatever was there was simply unproductive—not carrying out its intended function.
“Days One to Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions”
= Day One: In Genesis 1:5, God “called the light day and the darkness he called night.” Why? Why not just call light ‘light’? The simple, perhaps guessable, answer is that God was talking about making a period of light for human beings, not the ‘material’ creation of light. In 1:4, it says that God “separated the light from the darkness,” a nonsensical statement unless the text is speaking about God’s designation of a period of light. This standard can be extended to 1:3, where it reads “let there be light.” If this is referring to a period of light then God’s creation of the light is an act of creating a function intended to support human existence and it is also the creation of some measure of time.
= Day Two: For hundreds of years, we have known full well that the earth is not covered by a protective dome which shields us from masses of water above (the firmament of day two). Typically, it has simply been said that this was God speaking to the Israelites at their level. But then what do we think of creative activity on day two? Do we ignore it? This is far less of an issue if we understand that what God did on day two was to create something functional; the functions of the firmament were twofold: 1) make a safe space for humans to live and 2) control the weather, esp. precipitation. So day two was not so much about creating the ‘sky’ as we like to say, but about God’s creation of “the functions that serve as the basis for weather.”
= Day Three: people have been put into a quandary because they think that God didn’t ‘make’ anything on day three. Well that’s true, if you still work from a material standpoint. From a functional standpoint, on day three, God made a functional differentiation of terrestrial space. Others have noted that God’s creative act involved two things on day three (water and dry land, and vegetation). But in fact, if you think functionally, this is not two acts but one: it is the creation of the production of food by placing soil, water, and the principle of seed-bearing all together.
All in all, we see then that this is the functional creation of the first three days of creation: time, weather, and food—the three foundations of life.
“Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries”
= Day Four: the creation of the sources of light is difficult to make sense of from a material standpoint, but from a functional standpoint it is very simple. The light-sources serve to act as the functionaries of the functions of day one’s creation: they provide light upon the earth and they divide time into measurable segments.
= Day Five: rather than carrying out the function of their space as do the functionaries in day four, the functionaries of day five are put into the function established in day two and are meant to carry out their own functions. Animals of the water and sky are created and ordered to carry out their lives with their place in the functional system: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Day Six: these functionaries were also put into their space as it was designed on day three, wild animals placed on the land and told to be functional in their own way: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Humanity: (due to their special nature, they get their own category, despite being created on day six.) Three other things are of note in the creation of humans in Genesis 1:
1) Humans, like the other animals of day six, get placed on the earth and instructed in their functions, but unlike the other animals, they have an extra function: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…”
2) While all creation is made to function underneath human beings (earth for the animals, animals for the humans, etc.) human beings are made in the image of God (a statement that in the Hebrew is repeated to a degree that is somewhat ridiculous) and as the bearers of the image of God, they are his vice regents, his agents in the world.
3) There is little concern over the material from which humans are made; the reference to dust in Genesis 2 is not a statement of material composition, but rather a statement of origin—a reference to the earth-bound and mortal nature of the created man. So the concern is not with material origin, but with archetypal origin, a concern with the interconnectedness of all human beings and their connectedness to the earth and its mortality.
So the creation (very simplified) might look like this: the creative acts of the first three days have the function of creating appropriate space for the created beings of the following three days, the pinnacle of which are human beings, whose function is to rule over the created beings and the space designed for them, and all of this serves to give glory to God.
(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)