Genesis 1:1- Does the Bible teach that God created the universe or just the Planet Earth?

Problems: Genesis 1:1 states that God created “the heavens and the Earth.” However, the “heavens” usually refers to the sky in Hebrew—not the entirety of the physical universe.

Solution: The expression “the heavens and the earth” (Hebrew Hashamayim we ha ‘erets) is a compound phrase that refers to the entirety of the universe.[1]

For instance, Joel writes, “The sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness. The Lord roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth tremble” (Joel 3:15-16). Note the Hebrew parallelism here. In verse 15 Joel refers to the “sun and moon… and the stars,” and in verse 16 he compares this with “the heavens and the earth.” Waltke writes, “This merism represents the cosmos, meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives. In all its uses in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 2:1, 4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 65:17; Jer. 23:24), this phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.”[2] Wenham concurs, “In the OT, as well as in Egyptian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic, ‘heaven and earth’ may also be used to denote the universe (M. Ottosson, TDOT 1:389–91; Stadelmann, Hebrew Conception of the World, 1–2; Gen 14:19, 22; 24:3; Isa 66:1; Ps 89:12). Gen 1:1 could therefore be translated ‘In the beginning God created everything.’ Commentators often insist that the phrase ‘heaven and earth’ denotes the completely ordered cosmos. Though this is usually the case, totality rather than organization is its chief thrust here.”[3] Since the Hebrews only had a 3,000 word vocabulary,[4] they often needed to combine words to convey a novel meaning. In this case, the Hebrews had no word for universe; thus, they used this compound expression.

[1] Hugh Ross writes, “Hashamayim we ha ‘erets (‘heavens’ plural and ‘earth’ singular with the definite articles and the conjunction) carries a distinct meaning, just as the English words ‘under’ and ‘statement’ or ‘dragon’ and ‘fly’ put together as compound nouns take on specific meanings. Hashamayim we ha ‘erets consistently refers to the totality of the physical universe: all of the matter and energy and whatever else it contains.” Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998. 20.

[2] Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001. 59.

[3] Wenham, G. J. (1998). Genesis 1–15 (Vol. 1, p. 15). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4] Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998. 20.

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