Herman Bavinck on Creation

Excerpts from Our Reasonable Faith

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 9, no. 1 (January 2000), pp. 2-3


Creatures, because they are creatures, are subject to time and space, though not all of them are this in the same way. Time makes it possible for a thing to continue existing in a succession of moments, for one thing to be after another. Space makes it possible for a thing to spread out to all sides, for one thing to exist next to another. Time and space therefore began to exist at the same time as the creatures, and as their inevitable modes of existence. They did not exist beforehand as empty forms to be filled in by the creatures for when there is nothing there is no time nor space either. They were not made independently, alongside of the creatures, as accompaniments, so to speak, and appended from the outside. Rather they were created in and with the creatures as the forms in which those creatures must necessarily exist as limited, finite creatures. Augustine was right when he said that God did not make the world in time, as if it were created into a previously existing form or condition, but that He made it together with time and time together with the world.[1]


Although we cannot speak on this point with absolute certainty, we may consider it likely that the heaven of heavens, the dwelling place of God, was brought into existence by the first creative act of God reported in Genesis 1:1 and that then the angels also came into existence. For in Job 38:4-7 the Lord answers Job from the whirlwind that no man was present when He laid the foundations of the earth and set the cornerstone of it, but that He did complete that work accompanied by the song of the morning stars and the shouting of the sons of God for joy. These sons of God are the angels. The angels therefore were present; at the completion of the earth and the creation of man.

For the rest, very little is told us about the creation of the heaven of heavens and its angels. After having mentioned it briefly in the first verse, the account of Genesis proceeds in the second verse to the broader report of the finishing of the earth. Such a finishing or arrangement was necessary, for, although the earth had already been made, nevertheless it existed for a while in a wild and empty state and was covered with darkness. We do not read that the earth became wild, that is, without form. Some have held that it was so, and in taking this position they thought of a judgment that had accrued through the fall of the angels to the already perfected earth. But Genesis 1:2 reports merely that the earth was without form, that is, that it existed in a formless or shapeless state, undifferentiated into light and darkness, the several bodies of water, dry land and sea. It was only the works of God, described in Genesis 1:3-10, which put an end to that formlessness of the earth. Just so it is reported that the original earth was void. It lacked the garnishing of plant and tree, and was not yet inhabited by any living being. The works of God, summed up in Genesis 1:11ff., put an end to this emptiness of the earth, for God did not create the earth for it to be void, but in order that men should live in it (Isa. 45:18). Clearly, therefore, the works of God in the arrangement or completion of the void and formless earth are divided into two groups. The first group of works or acts are introduced by the creation of light. It brings differentiation and distinction into being, form and shape, tone and color. The second group begins with the forming of the bearers of light, sun and moon and stars, and serves further to populate the earth with inhabitants—birds and fishes, and animals and man.[2]


The whole work of creation—according to the repeated testimony of the Scriptures[3]—was completed in six days. There has, however, been a good deal of difference of opinion and freedom of speculation about those six days. No one less than Augustine judged that God had made everything perfect and complete at once, and that the six days were not six successive periods of time, but only so many points of vantage from which the rank and order of the creatures might be viewed. On the other hand, there are many who hold that the days of creation are to be regarded as much longer periods of time than twenty-four hour units.

Scripture speaks very definitely of days which are reckoned by the measurement of night and morning and which lie at the basis of the distribution of the days of the week in Israel and its festive calendar. Nevertheless Scripture itself contains data which oblige us to think of these days of Genesis as different from our ordinary units as determined by the revolutions of the earth.

In the first place we cannot be sure whether what is told us in Genesis 1:1-2 precedes the first day or is included within that day. In favor of the first supposition is the fact that according to verse 5 the first day begins with the creation of light and that after the evening and the night it ends on the following morning. But even though one reckons the events of Genesis 1:1-2 with the first day, what one gets from that assumption is a very unusual day which for a while consisted of darkness. And the duration of that darkness which preceded the creation of light is nowhere indicated.

In the second place, the first three days (Gen. 1:3-13) must have been very unlike ours. For our twenty-four hour days are effected by the revolutions of the earth on its axis, and by the correspondingly different relationship to the sun which accompanies the revolutions. But those first three days could not have been constituted in that way. It is true that the distinction between them was marked by the appearance and disappearance of light. But the Book of Genesis itself tells us that sun and moon and stars were not formed until the fourth day.

In the third place, it is certainly possible that the second series of three days were constituted in the usual way. But if we take into account that the fall of the angels and of men and that also the Flood which followed later caused all sorts of changes in the cosmos, and if, in addition, we notice that in every sphere the period of becoming differs remarkably from that of normal growth, then it seems not unlikely that the second series of three days also differed from our days in many respects.

Finally, it deserves consideration that everything which according to Genesis 1 and 2 took place on the sixth day can hardly be crowded into the pale of such a day as we now know the length of days to be. For on that day according to Scripture there occurred the creation of the animals (Gen. 1:24-25), the creation of Adam (Gen. 1:26 and 2:7), the planting of the garden (Gen. 2:8-14), the giving of the probationary command (Gen. 2:16-17), the leading of the animals to Adam and his naming them (Gen. 2:18-20), and the sleep of Adam and the creation of Eve (Gen. 2:21-23).[4]


[1] Our Reasonable Faith, p. 170.

[2] Op. cit., p. 171.

[3] Gen. 1:2; Ex. 20:11 and 31:17.

[4] Op. cit., pp. 172, 173.