Did God create (bara) or make (asah) in Genesis 1?
- Many people who have written on Genesis 1 have attempted to make a
very significant distinction between two Hebrew words found there:
bara (בָּרָא, to create) and asah (עָשָׂה, to make or do). Theistic
evolutionists (TEs) and old-earth creationists (OECs) both accept the
millions of years advocated by the scientific establishment (although
the OECs do not accept neo-Darwinian evolution while TEs do). They
sometimes try to defend the acceptance of millions of years by saying
that bara refers to supernatural creation ex nihilo (Latin for "out of
nothing") but that asah means to make out of pre-existing material and
therefore allows for creation over a long period of time. Such people
say that the only supernatural creation events were in relation to the
heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), sea creatures and birds (1:21) and
Adam and Eve (1:27). Since asah is used for all other creative acts in
Genesis 1, those acts could have been creative processes over the
course of millions of years.
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The question before us is whether God's "creating activities" and
"making activities" in Genesis 1 are categorically different kinds of
events or processes. From these verses above we can note the following:
1. The * after the verses above indicates those entities that God
is said to have both "created" and "made." Bara (create) and asah
(make) are used interchangeably in the Bible in reference to the
creation of the following: the sun, the moon, the stars, sea
creatures, trees, rivers, man, the heavens, and the earth. In several
verses they are even used together to describe the same event.
2. The plants were neither "created" nor "made," according to the
words used in Genesis 1:11-13. But clearly (from passages such as Gen.
2:1-3, Ps. 33:6-9, Ps. 148, Heb. 11:3, etc.) they were created and
made by God's Word on the third day, even though God did not use these
particular words to describe His actions. There is no basis in science
or Scripture for saying that vegetation came into existence by purely
natural processes but that everything else was created supernaturally.
In fact, the formation of the first plants was clearly supernatural,
for they were made as mature plants with fruit already on them.
3. Bara does not always mean to create out of nothing. God created
the first male and female humans (Gen. 5:2). But we know from Genesis
2:7 that God formed (יָצַר, yatsar) Adam from the dust of the earth and
in Genesis 2:22 we are told that God fashioned (בָּנָה, banah) Eve from
the rib of Adam.
So, making a strong distinction between bara and asah in Genesis 12
is as unjustified as making a distinction between "create" and "make"
in English. It is true that in Scripture only God is the subject of
the verb bara; men make (asah) things, but only God creates (bara).
But God also makes (asah) things. The verbs alone cannot tell us how
God created and how long He took to create.
New Testament references confirm this understanding when describing
the creative work of our Creator, Jesus Christ. For example, John 1:3
says that all things came into being (ἐγένετο, egeneto) by the Word of
God, who is Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Colossians 1:16 says that all
things were created (ἐκτίσθη, ektisthay) by and for Christ. Hebrews
1:2 says He made (ἐποίησεν, epoiaysen) the original creation by His
Word (cf. Heb. 11:3). "Come into being," "create," and "made" in these
passages are clearly referring to the same divine activities in
Genesis 1 and 2. No distinction can be made between these Greek words
in reference to Creation week. These Greek words in these texts are in
the aorist tense. None of these words by themselves connote any
specific time frame other than that, in these cases, they refer to
completed past action. They cannot be interpreted to mean that the
processes are still going on (which would require a different Greek
verb tensepresent tense). Therefore, they disallow an evolutionary
meaning, since evolution is said to be a process that is continuing today.
This short study shows that there is no basis for saying that bara
only means an instantaneous, out-of-nothing, supernatural creative
action but that asah only means a slow, out-of-existing-material,
natural process of making (under God's providence, of course). In the
creation account (Gen. 1:1-2:3) both words are used in reference to ex
nihilo creation events and both are also used in reference to things
God made from previously created material.
So, only the context in which the words are used can give the precise
meaning, if there is a distinction to be made. The context of Genesis,
indeed the whole Bible, is overwhelmingly in favor of interpreting
both bara and asah in Genesis 1 as virtually instantaneous acts.
Whether God created something out of nothing or created something from
material that He had just made, the force of the words in context is
that both kinds of activities were instantaneous and supernatural
after God spoke "Let there be ... ." In Genesis 1 & 2 we should assume
ex nihilo (out of nothing) creation unless the text clearly indicates
otherwise (e.g., Gen. 2:7, 22).