Without a doubt the title of this essay assigned to us requires a word of explanation before we begin to discuss the ideas expressed in it. Many of our readers would like to know, and properly so, what this; essay is all about before they begin to read it.
From past experience undersigned can well imagine that some of our readers will say to themselves, “Well, now what does that Latin or Greek word “bereshith” mean anyway?” Many of our younger generation are apt to ask what this Dutch word means. All who ask these questions are wrong. The word is neither Latin, Greek or Dutch. It is a Hebrew word, in fact it Is the first word in the Hebrew Bible. It means, “In the beginning,” and is pronounced as though it were written beh-ray-sheeth with a short “e” on the first syllable and with the accent on the second syllable. This essay then has to do with the beginning mentioned in.
As far as the time element is concerned, this expression cannot be considered as referring to the beginning of all things in as far as God is concerned. Although God guided Moses in writing about this beginning of all things, the viewpoint in the expression is not God’s. This could never be, for God is infinite and eternal knowing no beginning nor end. Not only is His divine essence eternal and infinite, but His thoughts and will likewise are eternal and infinite. We ought also to bear in mind that eternity is not endless time. In eternity there is absolutely no time element at all. This is hard for us to grasp and understand because we are finite creatures of time. In fact, when we speak of eternity, we must use words that do have the time element in them. Yet eternity has no time element in it, and eternal is not the same as everlasting, although we do use these words interchangeably at times when we are not careful. The time element in everlasting is very plain. Everlasting simply means “lasting for all time”. It implies a beginning to that thing or reality that we call everlasting even though it denies an ending. Eternity however knows neither beginning nor end. For example, we can call the life which we receive from Christ as everlasting life, for it does not have an end. Yet there very definitely is a beginning to that life as far as we are concerned. There is a time when we do not have it, and then there is the moment of regeneration when it is first experienced by us. When we speak of God’s life, however, we must speak of an eternal life, and then we do not merely mean a life that has neither beginning nor end. There still is the idea of time in such a life, and this presentation does not do justice to the richness of the life of God. By God’s eternal life we mean that in Him there is a ceaseless conscious experiencing of all His thoughts, desires and works. (Note that, being creatures of time, we still must resort to such time-expressive words as “ceaseless” when speaking of the eternity of God which is devoid of all idea of time.)
We know many things, but we cannot bring them all before our consciousness at one time; nor can we experience them all at one moment. We know many passages from Scripture by heart, yet we cannot recall them to remembrance all at one time. We are so bound by time that we can recall them one by one and that is all. Similarly there is a time when we are babes and a time when we are grown men or women. The experiences of a child are not those of an adult, and the adult experiences things a child can never experience. So bound to time are we that we can experience the one or the other but never both at the same time. With God this is very different. He lives His whole life consciously, uninterruptedly without any phase of His life having beginning or end. All that He knows He knows at once and without ceasing. All that He wills He wills at one time and wills unendingly. All that He does He does at once—as far as His life is concerned—and without ceasing to perform it.
When we read then in Gen. 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, this beginning refers to nothing in God’s life. Eternally He determined this beginning. Eternally He willed it. Eternally He made it. Strictly speaking we ought to use the continuous present tense and say eternally God is willing, is determining and making all things. Understand that we are speaking of God’s life. As far as we are concerned, there is a very definite moment when God begins to do things and when He ceases, when He began to create and when He ceased creating. As far as God’s life is concerned, He said eternally, “Let there be light” and unto all eternity He will still say, “Let there be light”. Let us state it thus: Creation with all that it contained at the end of the sixth day was just as real to God before this moment here called bereshith as it was on the seventh day. A house is much more real to us when it is all built than when it is still an idea in our mind or a blueprint and when the house is burnt to the ground, its reality is gone for us. This is not so with God. His life did not become richer after this moment of bereshith nor after the work of creation was all finished. He experienced nothing after bereshith that He had not eternally experienced. It all was just as real before His consciousness before creation as it was afterward. He indeed is the unchangeable one, the infinite and eternal one.
As far as God’s life is concerned then this beginning is an eternal reality, for He had it eternally with Him« self in His counsel. If we may so state it, this beginning has neither beginning nor end in the mind and experience of God. He experienced it eternally both as to planning it, willing it and creating it. The time element in this expression is to be applied to man’s life. Looking at creation from man’s viewpoint there is a moment which we can call “The Beginning”. It is that split second when God created both time and space. This first verse of Genesis is expressive of the fact that God created time and space here in the twinkling of an eye. There was nothing before this, no space, but also no time. God existed by Himself as the Triune God. Then according to His good pleasure He created time and space.
There is as you perhaps know a dualistic theory which distortsto read, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep”. This heresy conceives of a preexistent world which is not God’s creation, but upon which He begins to work in the beginning, and from which He makes all the good creatures that appear. Hebrews 11:3 is sufficient to prove the unbelief in this presentation. There we read, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”. Rather should we conceive of it thus that bereshith refers to that indivisible moment when time and space were both created.
Thus the beginning was not a period of longer or shorter duration wherein this formless void world existed. The expression itself of course does allow the idea of such a period of longer or shorter duration. A beginning can sometimes last for years. Speaking, for example, of the history of our Protestant Reformed denomination, we can say, “In the beginning of our movement we had only one Classis and later on as we grew we decided to divide our church into Classis East and Classis West”. That period here designated as the beginning of our movement did then cover a period of quite a few years. This is not the case with the bereshith of Gen. 1:1. It is the briefest part of a moment when time was created, for time too is a creature of God’s handiwork.
Let us not overlook the fact that in this bereshith is not merely contained the idea of the beginning of this earth, but that heaven also received its beginning here. Before this bereshith there was no heaven, there were no angels any more than there was an earth. In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Heaven is a place and has a history of its own and in it there is also time. The angels, for example, cannot be in more than one place at one time any more than we can, for they too are creatures and are not divine although they have spiritual bodies.
Bereshith then marks the beginning of the history of heaven and earth. It marks the beginning of the first century, the first decade and the first year. It marks the beginning of the first month, the first week and the first day. It marks the beginning of the first hour, the first minute and the first second. In fact it is the beginning of all things, that is, all things had their beginning there in bereshith. We do not mean that the deeds performed today were already begun to be performed in this beginning, in this split second when time and space began. We mean that these deeds performed today and all that God shall do unto all eternity in the new heaven and earth had their beginning here in the sense that without this beginning these could never take place. The acorn is the beginning of the oak tree. It is not the tree as yet, and still the tree is in that acorn.
Yea, then the coming of Christ also is included in this beginning. Inwe read of this same beginning. There it is stated that, “In the beginning was the Word”. This does not mean merely that the Word was there before this bereshith. It does not state that he was there before all things. It is definitely declared that He was in the beginning. The implication certainly is that He was there before as the Son of God who is infinite and eternal. But it also means that He was in principle and according to God’s counsel here already as the Christ, the Son of God in our flesh. His coming was not yet for some four thousands years. But in principle He was in the beginning. Just turn to , there we read of Christ that He is the first-born of every creature. Now, fact is, that as far as our viewpoint is concerned and the time element in all the history of this world, that this is not so. Many thousands, yea, millions were born before Christ. In fact if Seth had not been born first and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Mary likewise, Christ would not have been born. But here again the viewpoint is God’s, and in His counsel Christ is the firstborn. He has the primary place in the counsel of God. He is first and all others stand in relation to Him. Thus when God created time and space simultaneously here in Bereshith, it was the beginning of the coming of Christ into our flesh, and for this reason all the time that follows after this initial moment of time serves the purpose of the Son of God.
Thus also the end of this present world is in bereshith. Bereshith is the first movement that progresses toward the last moment of this world. It is the Alpha but it points to the Omega, and the Omega is then contained in the Alpha of the bereshith. Time is movement and is not a stationary reality, so that the beginning of any point of time anticipates its end, and the end is contained in the beginning. Every division of time has its end toward which the beginning pushes it. The minute hand and the second hand on the clock returns back to the place where it began, and thereby it has reached its end. So too in this bereshith. It is the beginning of the history of the heavens and the earth and is the start to the end of all present things. Bereshith anticipates all that has ever happened in this world and all that will happen until the day of Christ, and again, since He is in the beginning, Bereshith is also the beginning of His return in glory upon the clouds of heaven to bring this present world to its telos, its end.