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2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

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1. In the beginning. To expound the term “beginning,” of Christ, is altogether frivolous. For Moses simply intends to assert that the world was not perfected at its very commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, but that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth. His language therefore may be thus explained. When God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste.3535     “La terre estoit vuide, et sans forme, et ne servoit a rien.” — “The earth was aempty, and without form, and was of no use.” — French Tr. He moreover teaches by the word “created,” that what before did not exist was now made; for he has not used the term יצר, (yatsar,) which signifies to frame or forms but ברא, (bara,) which signifies to create.3636     ברא It has a twofold meaning — 1. To create out of nothing, as is proved from these words, In the beginning, because nothing was made before them. 2. To produce something excellent out of pre-existent matter; as it is said afterwards, He created whales, and man. — See Fagius, Drusius, and Estius, in Poole’s Synopsis. Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing. Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens,3737     Inter profanos homines. who had received only an obscure report of the creation, and who, according to custom, adulterated the truth of God with strange figments; but for Christian men to labor (as Steuchus does3838     Steuchus Augustinus was the Author of a work, “De Perennie Philosophia,” Lugd. 1540, and is most likely the writer referred to by Calvin. The work, however, is very rare, and probably of little value. ) in maintaining this gross error is absurd and intolerable. Let this, then be maintained in the first place,3939     “Sit igitur haec prima sententia. Que ceci dont soit premierement resolu.” — French Tr. that the world is not eternal but was created by God. There is no doubt that Moses gives the name of heaven and earth to that confused mass which he, shortly afterwards, (Genesis 1:2.) denominates waters. The reason of which is, that this matter was to be the seed of the whole world. Besides, this is the generally recognized division of the world.4040     Namely, into heaven and earth.

God. Moses has it Elohim, a noun of the plural number. Whence the inference is drawn, that the three Persons of the Godhead are here noted; but since, as a proof of so great a matter, it appears to me to have little solidity, will not insist upon the word; but rather caution readers to beware of violent glosses of this kind.4141     The reasoning of Calvin on this point is a great proof of the candor of his mind, and of his determination to adhere strictly to what he conceives to be the meaning of Holy Scripture, whatever bearing it might have on the doctrines he maintains. It may however be right to direct the reader, who wishes fully to examine the disputed meaning of the plural word אלהים which we translate God, to some sources of information, whence he may be able to form his own judgment respecting the term. Cocceius argues that the mystery of the Trinity in Unity is contained in the word; and many other writers of reputation take the same ground. Others contend, that though no clear intimation of the Trinity in Unity is given, yet the notion of plurality of Persons is plainly implied in the term. For a full account of all the arguments in favor of this hypothesis, the work of Dr. John Pye Smith, on the Scripture testimony of the Messiah — a work full of profound learning, and distinguished by patient industry and calmly courteous criticism — may be consulted. It must however be observed, that this diligent and impartial writer has not met the special objection adduced by Calvin in this place, namely, the danger of gliding into Sabellianism while attempting to confute Arianism. — Ed They think that they have testimony against the Arians, to prove the Deity of the Son and of the Spirit, but in the meantime they involve themselves in the error of Sabellius,4242     The error of Sabellius (according to Theodoret) consisted in his maintaining, “that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are one hypostasis, and one Person under three names,” or, in the language of that eminent ecclesiastical scholar, the late Dr. Burton, “Sabellius divided the One Divinity into three, but he supposed the Son and the Holy Ghost to have no distinct personal existence, except when they were put forth for a time by the Father.” — See Burton’s Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, vol. 2, p. 365; and his Bampton Lectures, Note 103. This will perhaps assist the reader to understand the nature of Calvin’s argument which immediately follows. Supposing the word Elohim to denote the Three Persons of the Godhead in the first verse, it also denotes the same Three Persons in the second verse. But in this second verse Moses says, the Spirit of Elohim, that is, the Spirit of the Three Persons rested on the waters. Hence the distinction of Persons is lost; for the Spirit is himself one of them; consequently the Spirit is sent from himself. The same reasoning would prove that the Son was begotten by himself; because he is one of the Persons of the Elohim by whom the Son is begotten. — Ed. because Moses afterwards subjoins that the Elohim had spoken, and that the Spirit of the Elohim rested upon the waters. If we suppose three persons to be here denoted, there will be no distinction between them. For it will follow, both that the Son is begotten by himself, and that the Spirit is not of the Father, but of himself. For me it is sufficient that the plural number expresses those powers which God exercised in creating the world. Moreover I acknowledge that the Scripture, although it recites many powers of the Godhead, yet always recalls us to the Father, and his Word, and spirit, as we shall shortly see. But those absurdities, to which I have alluded, forbid us with subtlety to distort what Moses simply declares concerning God himself, by applying it to the separate Persons of the Godhead. This, however, I regard as beyond controversy, that from the peculiar circumstance of the passage itself, a title is here ascribed to God, expressive of that powers which was previously in some way included in his eternal essence.4343     The interpretation above given of the meaning of the word אלהים (Elohim) receives confirmation from the profound critical investigations of Dr. Hengstenberg, Professor of Theology in the University of Berlin, whose work, cast in a somewhat new form, and entitled “Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch,” appears in an English dress, under the superintendence of the Continental Translation Society, while these pages are passing through the press. With other learned critics, he concludes, that the word is derived from the Arabic root Allah, which means to worship, to adore, to be seized with fear. He, therefore, regards the title more especially descriptive of the awful aspect of the Divine character.
   On the plural form of the word he quotes from the Jewish Rabbis the assertion, that it is intended to signify ‘Dominus potentiarum omnium,’ ‘The Lord of all powers’. He refers to Calvin and others as having opposed, though without immediate effect, the notion maintained by Peter Lombard, that it involved the mystery of the Trinity. He repels the profane intimation of Le Clerc, and his successors of the Noological school, that the name originated in polytheism; and then proceeds to show that “there is in the Hebrew language a widely extended use of the plural which expresses the intensity of the idea contained in the singular.” After numerous references, which prove this point, he proceeds to argue, that “if, in relation to earthly objects, all that serves to represent a whole order of beings is brought before the mind by means of the plural form, we might anticipate a more extended application of this method of distinguishing in the appellations of God, in whose being and attributes there is everywhere a unity which embraces and comprehends all multiplicity.” “The use of the plural,” he adds, “answers the same purpose which elsewhere is accomplished by an accumulation of the Divine names; as in Joshua 22:22; the thrice holy in Isaiah 6:3; and אדני אדנים in Deuteronomy 10:17. It calls the attention to the infinite riches and the inexhaustible fullness contained in the one Divine Being, so that though men may imagine innumerable gods, and invest them with perfections, yet all these are contained in the one אלהים (Elohim).” See Dissertations, pp.268-273.

   It is, perhaps, necessary here to state, that whatever treasures of biblical learning the writings of this celebrated author contains, and they are undoubtedly great, the reader will still require to be on his guard in studying them. For, notwithstanding the author’s general strenuous opposition to the and — supernaturalism of his own countrymen, he has not altogether escaped the contagion which he is attempting to resist. Occasions may occur in which it will be right to allude to some of his mistakes. — Ed.

2. And the earth was without form and void. I shall not be very solicitous about the exposition of these two epithets, תוהו, (tohu,) and בוהו, (bohu.) The Hebrews use them when they designate anything empty and confused, or vain, and nothing worth. Undoubtedly Moses placed them both in opposition to all those created objects which pertain to the form, the ornament and the perfection of the world. Were we now to take away, I say, from the earth all that God added after the time here alluded to, then we should have this rude and unpolished, or rather shapeless chaos.4444     The words תהו ובהו are rendered in Calvin’s text informis et inanis, “shapeless and empty.” They are, however, substantives, and are translated in Isaiah 34:11, “confusion” and “emptiness.” The two words standing in connection, were used by the Hebrews to describe anything that was most dreary, waste, and desolate. The Septuagint has κὰι ἀκατασκευάστος, invisible and unfurnished. — Ed Therefore I regard what he immediately subjoins that “darkness was upon the face of the abyss,”4545     It is to be remarked, that Calvin does not in his comment always adhere to his own translation. For instance, his version here is, “in superficiem voraginis;” but in his Commentary he has it, “super faciem abyssi,” from the Latin Vulgate. — Ed. as a part of that confused emptiness: because the light began to give some external appearance to the world. For the same reason he calls it the abyss and waters, since in that mass of matter nothing was solid or stable, nothing distinct.

And the Spirit of God Interpreters have wrested this passage in various ways. The opinion of some that it means the wind, is too frigid to require refutation. They who understand by it the Eternal Spirit of God, do rightly; yet all do not attain the meaning of Moses in the connection of his discourse; hence arise the various interpretations of the participle מרחפת, (merachepeth.) I will, in the first place, state what (in my judgment) Moses intended. We have already heard that before God had perfected the world it was an undigested mass; he now teaches that the power of the Spirit was necessary in order to sustain it. For this doubt might occur to the mind, how such a disorderly heap could stand; seeing that we now behold the world preserved by government, or order.4646     “Temperamento servari.” Perhaps we should say, “preserved by the laws of nature.” — Ed. He therefore asserts that this mass, however confused it might be, was rendered stable, for the time, by the secret efficacy of the Spirit. Now there are two significations of the Hebrew word which suit the present place; either that the spirit moved and agitated itself over the waters, for the sake of putting forth vigor; or that He brooded over them to cherish them.4747     The participle of the verb רהף is here used instead of the regular tense. “The Spirit was moving,” instead of “the Spirit moved.” The word occurs in Deuteronomy 32:11, where the eagle is represented as fluttering over her young. Vatablus, whom Calvin here probably follows, says, the Holy Spirit cherished the earth “by his secret virtue, that it might remain stable for the time.” — See Poole’s Synopsis. The word, however, is supposed further to imply a vivifying power; as that of birds brooding over and hatching their young. Gesenius says that Moses here speaks, “Von der shaffenden und belebenden Kraft Gottes die uber der chaotischen wasserbedeckten Erde schwebt gleichsam bruetet” — “of the creative and quickening power of God, which hovered over the chaotic and water — covered earth, as if brooding.” The same view is given by P. Martyr on Genesis; others, however, are opposed to this interpretation. Vide Johannes Clericus in loco. — Ed Inasmuch as it makes little difference in the result, whichever of these explanations is preferred, let the reader’s judgment be left free. But if that chaos required the secret inspiration of God to prevent its speedy dissolution; how could this order, so fair and distinct, subsist by itself, unless it derived strength elsewhere? Therefore, that Scripture must be fulfilled,

‘Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth,’ (Psalm 104:30;)

so, on the other hand, as soon as the Lord takes away his Spirit, all things return to their dust and vanish away, (Psalm 104:29.)




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