You’ll Never Hear the Opening Words of the Bible the Same Again
I suppose everything needs a birthday, including the world. From the womb of nothingness, the baby heavens and the infant earth were born. Like Aslan sang creation into existence in The Magician’s Nephew, so God’s song has verses like “let there be light” and “let the waters swarm.” Whatever rolls off His tongue, rolls from not-being to being. It all starts, quite fittingly, “in the beginning.”
In those three words, however, I detect more than “this is how all this stuff began.” I do hear that, to be sure, but also something bigger and better. When I put my ear really close to the page, I hear the whisper of something else, and someone else, in the Bible’s opening words. And after reading this, I hope you do the same.
What we hear in English as three words is compressed into only one word in Hebrew. “In the beginning” is bereshit (pronounced as buh-ray-SHEET). The be- means “in” and –reshit means “the beginning.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but this all sounds pretty straightforward to me. A beginning is a beginning. It’s a start. When God kicked off creation, He did so ‘in the beginning.’ How else would he do it?”
I like an illustration given by a teacher in the church centuries ago named Origen. He compared the Bible to a large house full of locked rooms, in which the keys to all the rooms are scattered throughout the house. The task—the joyful task!—of the interpreter is to go around the house, trying various keys in various doors, until they are all opened. This is one way to picture our reading of the Bible. Like a man trying keys in all the locks, we try this verse to that verse, this OT story to that NT parable, in an attempt to open up the full meaning of the Scriptures. Ultimately, however, there is one key that opens all the rooms. It is the key of Christ Himself. As He opened the minds of His disciples to see that Moses and all the prophets wrote about the Messiah (Luke 24:27,45), so He opens our minds to see the same.
So if we insert various verse-keys into the opening word of the Bible, especially the key shaped like Jesus, what will we find when we crack open the door?
Let’s first try a key from Proverbs (probably not the first place you’d think to look!). What does Proverbs have to do with Genesis? Proverbs 8 focuses on the place of wisdom in creation—only this wisdom is spelled Wisdom, for it is not a thing but a person. Wisdom says, “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before [God] had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there,” (8:25-27a). And a few verses later, Wisdom continues, “I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man,” (8:30-31). Who is this Wisdom? None other than the one “whom God has made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30), the one through whom “all things were made” and without whom there “was not any thing made that was made,” (John 1:3). The Wisdom who speaks in Proverbs 8 is the Son of God.
But what does Christ as divine Wisdom have to do with Genesis 1:1’s “in the beginning”? Earlier in Proverbs 8, Christ as Wisdom says this, “The LORD possessed me—the beginning of His way—before His works of old.” This is my own literal translation from the Hebrew. Wisdom is saying, “Before anything was made, I belonged to the Father. I am the beginning of His way, the beginning of how the Father works. The Hebrew for “beginning” is reshit, the same word that we find in Genesis 1:1. Thus, the Wisdom of God, the Son of the Father, is the reshit of the Creator. Jesus is the Beginning.
Interestingly, even early Jewish translators and interpreters looked at Genesis 1:1 not merely as the temporal beginning. One early paraphrase or translation, known as a targum, rendered Genesis 1:1 this way, “In Wisdom, God created the heavens and the earth.” And the early Jewish commentary on Genesis, known as Bereshit Rabbah, says that the “beginning” in Gen 1:1 refers to the Torah, for it understands the Torah as the “beginning of God’s way” in Proverbs 8.
Now let’s use some NT keys to see if we can unlock “in the beginning” even more. John begins his Gospel with words that are, in Greek, a direct link to Genesis 1:1. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In Greek, the phrase “in the beginning” is en arche (pronounced “in arkay”). This word, arche, occurs a few other places in the NT in reference to Christ. Paul writes that Jesus “is the beginning [arche], the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent,” (Col 1:18). Twice in Revelation, John calls Christ “the beginning [arche] and the end,” (21:6 and 22:13). But best of all, in Rev 3:14, Jesus himself says, “To the angel of the church of Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning [arche] of the creation of God.’” Did you hear that? Jesus identifies Himself as the “beginning of the creation of God.” He is the Beginning, the arche, who is directly linked to God’s creative work.
If we mold all these verses together into a sort of biblical stethoscope, and place it onto opening words of Scripture, what do we hear beating within the heart of this verse? We hear that this “beginning” is not simply the start of time. This beginning is a personal Beginning. “In the beginning” means “in Wisdom, in the Word, in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, God created the heavens and the earth.” He is indeed the “beginning of the creation of God,” (Rev 3:14). “By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him,” (Col 1:15-16).
I promised that you’d never hear the opening words of the Bible the same again. And I hope that holds true. In the very first word of the Scriptures, we hear of Christ. And appropriately so. For He is Himself the Word. He is the fullness of the Scriptures. Jesus Himself testified that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46). Indeed, Moses did. The very first word He penned onto the scroll of the Torah was bereshit, that is, “in Christ.”
If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!