© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 12 September 2016
The Hebrew word used for GOD (56 times) in Genesis 1 – 3 is elohim. It occurs in the OT more than 2200 times to mean the biblical God. Surprisingly, it is a plural word, as further reflected in Gen 1:26a.
Yet although elohim is plural, the Hebrew verbs relating to it are singular. So the language that refers to God is both plural and singular!
Elohim was also expanded to yahweh elohim in GEN 2:4 – 3:24 (20 times). But at this stage of the OT there was no further explanation of the meaning of these words, or why both the singular and plural were used.
1A1(a) The nature of God
From the very beginning of the Bible, God’s existence was simply assumed Gen 1:1. The narrative then described how His own nature or character or “essence” started to be expressed by His words and actions.
To summarise God’s nature by dissecting it under various headings has problems and limitations. I made several detailed attempts to do this. But always I was dissatisfied with the result because my categorizing headings were not precise enough. Then I read this quotation from John Calvin: “God to keep us sober speaks sparingly of his essence”. Bruce Milne further comments: “Hence without omitting any feature of God’s self-disclosure, we are wise to avoid over-detailed descriptions and distinctions. It is also important to remember that all of these perfections exist in God in an indivisible unity.”1
There is endless “overlap” between each and every attribute of God. So separating and classifying them could easily distort descriptions of His nature. As I said to my wife at one point, “whenever I try to dissect God it soon gets blurry!” And so it should. He is God.
Bearing these cautions and limitations in mind, I have carefully attempted to identify and clarify attributes of God’s nature that are indicated in Genesis 1 – 3 without over-dissecting them.
1A1(b) God’s attributes
Many attributes of God’s nature begin to be seen in Genesis 1 – 3. I have decided on seven general descriptions to summarise them. These are listed more or less in the order that they appear. Again I emphasise that God’s whole nature was involved in all of His words and actions, regardless of how these may be differentiated from each other.
GENESIS 1 – 3 implies at least three things about God’s limitlessness.
Firstly, God is unlimited by time. The Bible begins with Gen 1:1. Yet God must have existed before “the beginning”, implying that He Himself had no beginning. Later God stated that the people had “now become like one of us” and had the potential to “live forever” Gen 3:22. This indicates that God Himself will have no ending. So He is unlimited in relation to time. He is eternal. In other words, God’s existence is infinite in duration. Or alternatively, time itself is meaningless in regard to Him.
Secondly, God is unlimited in authority and control. Initially He was able to create all things Gen 1:1. Then he further developed them simply by giving commands Gen 1:3,6-7,9,11,14-15,20-21,24,26-28. These commands were declared in the way that an ancient sovereign ruler or king would have got whatever he required just by giving orders (as “royal fiats”2). That is, God is infinite or absolute in power.
Thirdly, God is unlimited in the scope of His activities. Obviously He was greater than all that He created. This means that He exceeded the extent of the whole visible universe, as well as the unseen world implied by “the heavens”! This is surely sufficient grounds to conclude that God is limitless in relation to space or place, as well as in His ability to create and have knowledge of all that He created. That is, God is infinite in capabilities.
Although God is sometimes indicated as multiple (“Spirit of God” Gen 1:2b) or plural terms were used (“us” Gen 1:26a, 3:22a) there is no sense of any disunity in all of His words and activities.
Nor is there any suggestion of other gods existing. Somehow the serpent had come to be an opponent of God and was trying to take over control of God’s creation. Yet this serpent was not seen as a god but only as one of the “wild animals” created by God Gen 1:25, 3:1a. God simply condemned and cursed the serpent for contesting His authority Gen 3:14-15.
So God is neither divided within Himself nor exists alongside other gods. He is unique.
After seeing various parts of His creation, God declared that they were “good”. These were:
# light Gen 1:4a
# land and seas Gen 1:10
# trees and other seed-producing plants Gen 1:12
# sun, moon and stars Gen 1:16-17,18b
# birds and sea creatures Gen 1:21
# land creatures Gen 1:25
The goodness of God’s creation also included trees that were “good for food” as well as beautiful Gen 2:9a.
Like the English adjective “good”, the Hebrew word (tob) has many meanings such as favourable, well-being, pleasant, or moral rightness.3 God finally declared that His whole creation was “very good” Gen 1:31a. “Very” literally means “in truth”. This was God’s own assessment of His creation, so “very good” meant absolutely good. God was saying that everything was flawless, reflecting His perfection.
Yet all this goodness was highlighted by two absolute contrasts: with evil Gen 2:9b,17a and with the aloneness of Adam Gen 2:18a. God immediately created a wonderful solution to Adam’s problem! Gen 2:18b,20b-25. But the existence of evil was puzzling because God had declared that His whole creation was perfect. So evil could not have been created by God. Although He knew about evil Gen 3:22a He did not intend people to have knowledge of it Gen 2:17a.
Evil only began to be known in the Earthly scene by Adam and Eve due to their voluntary choices to disobey God Gen 3:6. These choices were their responses to the freedom He had allowed them Gen 2:16 [see 1A6(f)] and His one requirement and dire warning for them Gen 2:17.
They had yielded to questions and deceptions from the serpent Gen 3:1b,4-5,13b. The origins of the serpent were not revealed at this time [see 1B22 and 3B(JOB)22]. Yet its blatant opposition to God was obvious.
Because God is perfect He could never be compromised or changed in any way by His creation or by whatever happened within it. In other words, God’s perfection indicated that He is unchanging [see 1A5(sub-title)(c)]. For this reason all of the attributes used in 1A1(b) to describe God’s nature are stated in the present and not past tense.
Genesis begins by stating that the Earth initially was formless, empty, dark and watery, with the Spirit of God hovering over it Gen 1:2. Then God’s spoken instructions resulted in the “forming” Gen 1:3-19 and “filling” Gen 1:20-31 of the Earth [see 1A4(a)].
The way these instructions were given indicated God’s mode of operation. They were expressed either as “Let there be . . . Gen 1:3,6,14 or simply “Let . . .” Gen 1:9,11,15,20,22,24. This implied an authorizing or permission-giving by God for the creation of each item to proceed. Finally, when creating people (and using a plural pronoun) He said “Let us make . . . ” Gen 1:26.
To whom was God giving these instructions or authorisations? Was He speaking to “the Spirit of God” that was initially “hovering” over the Earth, as though awaiting and anticipating such instructions? Gen 1:2b. If so, then using the plural pronoun “us” indicated that God and the Spirit of God were obviously very closely associated with each other.4
This all suggests that God’s spoken instructions were understood and implemented by the Spirit of God, purposefully exercising the powers of God Himself, as God-in-action [see 1A3(a)(i)].
A further highly significant fact was that the giving of life to people and all creatures was by means of “the breath of life” that came from God Gen 1:30, 2:7. This too had close affinities with “the Spirit of God” Gen 1:2 because the Hebrew word used for Spirit (ruach) was also later used to mean “breath” (of life) Gen 6:17, 7:15,22. Since the life of people and many creatures continued to rely on breathing, this implied that the ongoing existence of all creation was somehow dependent on the Spirit of God.
It is concluded that the origins, mode of creation and ongoing existence of everything were all initiated by the commands of God and implemented by the Spirit of God. So the basis of material creation, including the giving of life, was non-material. This indicated another fundamental aspect of God’s essence or nature, that He is spiritual.
The whole structure of Genesis 1 centres on God’s creational declarations or commands. These are recorded as quoted speech directed to unidentified listener(s) Gen 1:1-27,31. This was evidence of mysterious interactions between God and other beings in His presence, as implied by His speaking in the plural Gen 1:26. Even the serpent seemed to have prior knowledge of God’s command to Adam Gen 2:16-17 when he spoke craftily to Adam and Eve Gen 3:1-5.
Next God began to communicate and interact with Adam and Eve Gen 1:28-30, 2:15-17,19-22. Even after they disobeyed Him Gen 3:6b He had extended dialogues with them Gen 3:9-13,16-19. Finally God declared His judgments upon the serpent and the people Gen 3:14-15,22.
So God obviously interacted with all of His creation and communicated with other living beings. This indicated that He is relational.
Everything that God had created was good. This especially benefited the people Gen 1:29, 2:8-10,15-16,18b,21-25. He also blessed the sea creatures, birds and people with the capability to multiply and fill the Earth Gen 1:22,28a. The people were given authority over the Earth and its creatures Gen 1:28b. God even allowed people almost complete freedom and the potential to live forever! Gen 2:16-17, 3:22. All of this vast favour and provisions for every living creature and especially for the people indicated that God is profoundly generous.
This attribute is derived from God’s application of all His other attributes. He was expressing His own nature in all of His creation and this was intentional [see 1A3]. It was why God created and sustained the universe. That determined what He did in all of His creation and how and when He did it. Central to this was His creation of people and His intended roles for them Gen 1:26-28.
I have seen “purposeful” as indicating God’s sovereignty over all of His creation. He governs it always with absolute authority in order to accomplish His purposes Isaiah 14:24,26-27.
For all these vital reasons, God’s purposefulness is more fully outlined later [see 1A3].
1A1(c) Showing God in “box 1” on the Chart
The elliptical border for “box” 1A1 in Chart 1A is just to make it look better than “putting God in a box, as square one”! Similarly, the lines radiating outwards are meant to indicate the sheer magnificence of God.
1. Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: a Handbook of Christian Belief, third edition (Nottingham: IVP, 2009), page 85. (Return to reading).
2. A “fiat” is “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order”. A. Delbridge et al eds., The Macquarie Dictionary”, revised edition (Dee Why: Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 1985), page 651. (Return to reading).
3. Vine, Unger and White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, pages 99-100 (OT section). (Return to reading).
4. At this point the Spirit of God was not identified as a person or explained at all, but left veiled in mystery. (Return to reading).