The second day of creation


  • Question 179, from Ben, United Kingdom

    In Genesis chapter 1, the second day of creation doesn’t have “God saw that it was good”. It is the only day that misses this phrase out. Is there a particular reason for that?

    The creation story in Genesis chapter 1 follows a fairly clear pattern of events, and contains eight different acts of divine creation spread over six ‘days’. Seven of the creative acts are declared good by God, with the exception of the division of the waters of the heavens and the earth on the second day.

    This has been noticed by a number of commentators, over the centuries. Louis Ginzberg, noted some Rabbinical explanations in his book ‘Legends of the Jews’ published in 1909. According to ancient Jewish lore, “On the second day God brought forth four creations, the firmament, hell, fire, and the angels.”

    “The separation of the waters into upper and lower waters was the only act of the sort done by God in connection with the work of creation. All other acts were unifying…

    “The second day of creation was an untoward day in more than the one respect that it introduced a breach where before there had been nothing but unity; for it was the day that saw also the creation of hell. Therefore God could not say of this day as of the others, that He ’saw that it was good.’ A division may be necessary, but it cannot be called good, and hell surely does not deserve the attribute of good.”

    In his ‘Exposition of the Entire Bible’, the eighteenth century Calvinist theologian John Gill cites an ancient Jewish legend that the angels fell on the second day, which is why God did not use thw word God. However Gill notes a “better” explanation: “because the work of the waters was not finished; it was begun on the second day, and perfected on the third; and therefore the phrase is twice used in the account of the third day’s work”.

    John Gibson [1] notes that Rabbinical and early Christian theologians suggested that there was a ‘first creation’ that was damaged by the fall of angels, meaning God had to recreate the world from the resulting chaos. However, Gibson dismisses this saying: “It is entirely speculative, assuming not only a first Creation, but also a first Fall, of neither of which is there any hint elsewhere in Scripture.”

    It may be the omission of ‘and it was good’ on the second day of creation relates to a description of the existence of a world ‘without form and void’ in chapter 1, verse 2 which echoes other creation accounts. For example, in the Babylonian creation myth, the god Marduk slays the water-dwelling chaos-dragon Tiamat, and divides its body into two, with one half becoming the ‘firmament’, or sky, and the other becoming the oceans.

    The division of the waters on the second day could therefore be a retelling of this well-known and commonly understood story. It may represent a struggle for God to master the forces of chaos, and subdue them. There are other verses in the Old Testament that hint at a primordial struggle between Yahweh and the forces of chaos, even a Babylonian-style ‘serpent’ –see Psalm 54 and Isaiah chapter 51.

    If the ‘waters’ are supposed to represent chaos, this could be why God does not say it was good. This act of taming chaos does not result in something good happening, but paves the way for the creation of solid land on day three, which is definitely good and declared so by God.

    A far simpler explanation is that the writer omitted it accidentally. The phrase does appear in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that dates from the late 3rd century BCE. This may have been a ‘correction’ by the translators or may reflect earlier Hebrew texts that contained thisverse but have since been lost.

     

    References

    [1] The Daily Study Bible, Genesis: Volume 1 (Saint Andrew Press, 1981). The quote is from page 27.

     

    Who’s Who and What’s What – further information about people and things mentioned in this answer

    Rabbi Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953) was a leading figure in the Conservative Movement of Judaism in the twentieth century. A noted scholar, based in Harvard, he wrote numerous books about Jewish history and culture, including ‘The Legends of the Jews’, which was published in six volume (and a supplementary index) in 1909. His books contained hundreds of stories drawn from Jewish Rabbinical commentaries on the Old Testament.

    John Gill (1697-1771), was an English Baptist writer and strongly Calvinist theologian. Gill was a life-long Hebrew scholar, and is said to have learned Greek by the age of 11. His ‘Exposition of the Entire Bible’, published in nine volumes, remains the largest Bible commentary ever written by a single person.

    The Septuagint is a translation of the Old Testament and Apocrypha into Greek by Jewish scholars living in Alexandria in Egypt. The traditional account of its origin the translation was sponsored by Ptolemy II Philadelphus who was king of Egypt from 283 BCE to 246 BCE. Seventy scholars worked on translations and their work was compared it was found to be harmonious – this was attributed to God’s guiding spirit, giving the Septuagint a much-needed aura of holiness. The word ‘Septuagint’ is a reference to the ‘seventy’ translators.

    The Septuagint was used throughout the Greek and then the Roman Empire and is the version of the Old Testament quoted by New Testament writers, which is why quotes in the New Testament often read differently to quotes in the Old Testament if you look them up and compare them. The earliest Christian writers almost exclusively used the Septuagint.

    In modern day Biblical studies the Septuagint is often referenced as LXX (Roman numerals for 70), if its wording is used by translators instead of the Hebrew text.

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