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Did God create (bara) or make (asah) in Genesis 1?

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  • kurt_streutker
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2007
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      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.


      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 1–2
      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 tense—present 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).

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