by Rev. Jesse Burns

Each week, as we gather before our Lord’s altar to receive His Word and Sacraments, we confess our Christian faith in the words of one of the historic creeds. In both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds we confess that we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. This is no insignificant teaching of Holy Scripture. The Bible is dripping with verses which teach that the Triune God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – created all things and that this same God has redeemed us from sin, death, and hell through the blood of the incarnate Son.

Read Genesis 1.

  1. Chapter 1 teaches that God created the world out of nothing in six days. Luther said, “…He has left with us this general knowledge that the world had a beginning and that it was created by God out of nothing. This general knowledge is clearly drawn from the text.[1]” How do the words “In the beginning” teach us that God created everything out of nothing? How do the various theories that teach that the world is a result of primordial mass changing over time contradict God’s clear and simple words, “In the beginning God created…”? Why would accepting such speculative theories be detrimental to a Christian’s faith? What do such theories say of God and His Word?
  2. One way some have tried to reconcile the prominent theories of evolution with God’s Word is to assert that God creates through an evolutionary process. This is sometimes called “theistic evolution.” To hold to such a position, the words of Genesis have to be interpreted figuratively. The word “day” cannot, in that case, mean a literal day. However, while teaching against another theory which assumed that God created everything instantaneously rather than over the course of six days, Luther said “…we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e. that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.[2]” Why is the idea that God creates through evolution contrary to clear teaching of Holy Scripture, especially Genesis 1?

3. When we think of God creating the heavens and the earth, we perhaps think of God in a generic way. In Holy Scripture the God who created all things reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being. While it is true that the fullest expression of the “Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity”[3] is taught in the New Testament (John 1; Matthew 3; Matthew 28 to note a few), it is also true that our Lord begins to reveal the three distinct persons in the one divine being already in Genesis 1.

After re-reading verses 1 and 2 consider what Luther says here: “Indeed, it is the great consensus of the church that the mystery of the Trinity is set forth here. The Father creates heaven and earth out of nothing through the Son, whom Moses calls the Word. Over these the Holy Spirit broods. As a hen broods her eggs, keeping them warm in order to hatch her chicks, and, as it were, to bring them to life through heat, so Scripture says that the Holy Spirit brooded, as it were, on the waters to bring to life those substances which were to be quickened and adorned. For it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive.”[4]

Reread verses 26-28. Consider these words from Luther: “In the second place, the word ‘Let Us make’ is aimed at making sure the mystery of our faith, by which we believe that from eternity there is one God and that there are three separate Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” How is Luther’s teaching on the Trinity here from Genesis 1 further supported by the New Testament texts cited above?

  1. When we consider the words, “in the beginning” we might be tempted to delve into speculative questions, such as, “What was God doing before He created all things?” Luther answers, “It is folly to argue much about God outside and before time, because this is an effort to understand the Godhead without a covering, or the uncovered divine essence. Because this is impossible, God envelops Himself in His works in certain forms, as today He wraps Himself up in Baptism, in absolution, etc. If you should depart from these, you will get into an area where there is no measure, no space, no time, and into the merest nothing, concerning which, according to the philosopher, there can be no knowledge. Therefore we justly pass over this question and are satisfied with the simple explanation of the phrase ‘in the beginning.’”[5] Although God has not given answers to every speculative question, what has He given us? Where does God reveal Himself to us? How has He revealed Himself to us in Genesis 1?

“When God reveals Himself to us, it is necessary for Him to do so through some such veil or wrapper and to say: ‘Look! Under this wrapper you will be sure to take hold of Me.’”[6] Thanks be to God that He has revealed Himself to us in His Holy Word, through which we take hold of Him in faith. In Holy Scripture God has revealed Himself to us as the One who created all things and as the One who has taken up our humanity in order to redeem us lost and condemned creatures.

The Rev. Jesse A. Burns is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, Iowa.

[1]           Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 1: Luther’s Works, vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House., page 3.

[2]           Ibid., page 5

[3]              Athanasian Creed. The Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006). page 320

[4]           Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 1: Luther’s Works, vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House., page 9

[5]           Ibid., page 11

[6]           Ibid., page 15