Keywords: create, bara, make, asah, theistic evolutionists, old-earth creationists, neo-Darwinism, exegesis, Hebrew, Genesis

Many people who have written on Genesis 1 have attempted to make a very significant distinction between two Hebrew words found there: bara (בָּרָא, to create) and asah (עָשָׂה, to make or do). Theistic evolutionists (TEs) and old-earth creationists (OECs) both accept the millions of years advocated by the scientific establishment (although the OECs do not accept neo-Darwinian evolution while TEs do). They sometimes try to defend the acceptance of millions of years by saying that bara refers to supernatural creation ex nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”) but that asah means to make out of pre-existing material and therefore allows for creation over a long period of time. Such people say that the only supernatural creation events were in relation to the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), sea creatures and birds (Gen. 1:21) and Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27). Since asah is used for all other creative acts in Genesis 1, those acts could have been creative processes over the course of millions of years.

But this argument will not stand when we look carefully at the use of these words in Genesis 1 and in other biblical passages related to creation. Compare these two lists:

Bara: to shape or create Asah: to do or make
Gen. 1:1   created the heavens and earth Gen. 1:7   made the expanse between the waters above and below
Gen. 1:21   created the sea creatures and birds Gen. 1:16 * made the sun, moon and stars
Gen. 1:27 * created man (both Adam and Eve) Gen. 1:25   made all land creatures
Gen. 2:3 * created and made all His works Gen. 1:31   all that He made
Gen. 2:4   created heavens and earth Gen. 2:3 * all His works which God created and made
Gen. 5:1   created man (both Adam and Eve, cf. 5:2) Gen. 2:4 * made heaven and earth
Gen. 5:2   created male and female Gen. 3:1   made the beasts of the field
Ps. 89:47   created all the sons of men Gen. 3:7   made loin clothes from fig leaves
Ps. 104:30   created sea creatures Gen. 3:21   made garments from animal skins
Ps. 148:5 *

created heavens, heights, angels, hosts, sun, moon and stars

Gen. 5:1 * made man (referring to both male and female)
Is. 40:26 * created stars Gen. 6:6 *

made man

Is. 40:26   created trees, rivers Gen. 7:4 *

destroy every living thing that I have made

Is. 54:16   created the blacksmith and the destroyer Gen. 9:6 * man made in the image of God
      Ps. 121:2 * made the heavens and the earth
      Ps. 104:24 * made the sea, sea creatures and land animals
      Is. 41:20 * done this, made the trees and rivers
      Is. 43:7 * made, created and formed man
      Is. 45:18 * made, formed, established and created the earth

The question before us is whether God’s “creating activities” and “making activities” in Genesis 1 are categorically different kinds of events or processes. From these verses above we can note the following:

  1. The * after the verses above indicates those entities that God is said to have both “created” and “made.” Bara (create) and asah (make) are used interchangeably in the Bible in reference to the creation of the following: the sun, the moon, the stars, sea creatures, trees, rivers, man, the heavens, and the earth. In several verses they are even used together to describe the same event.
  2. The plants were neither “created” nor “made,” according to the words used in Genesis 1:11-13. But clearly (from passages such as Gen. 2:1-3, Ps. 33:6-9, Ps. 148, Heb. 11:3, etc.) they were created and made by God’s Word on the third day, even though God did not use these particular words to describe His actions. There is no basis in science or Scripture for saying that vegetation came into existence by purely natural processes but that everything else was created supernaturally. In fact, the formation of the first plants was clearly supernatural, for they were made as mature plants with fruit already on them.
  3. Bara does not always mean to create out of nothing. God created the first male and female humans (Gen. 5:2). But we know from Genesis 2:7 that God formed (יָצַר, yatsar) Adam from the dust of the earth and in Genesis 2:22 we are told that God fashioned (בָּנָה, banah) Eve from the rib of Adam.

So, making a strong distinction between bara and asah in Genesis 1–2 is as unjustified as making a distinction between “create” and “make” in English. It is true that in Scripture only God is the subject of the verb bara; men make (asah) things, but only God creates (bara).1 But God also makes (asah) things. The verbs alone cannot tell us how God created and how long He took to create.

New Testament references confirm this understanding when describing the creative work of our Creator, Jesus Christ. For example, John 1:3 says that all things came into being (ἐγένετο, egeneto) by the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created (ἐκτίσθη, ektisthay) by and for Christ. Hebrews 1:2 says He made (ἐποίησεν, epoiaysen) the original creation by His Word (cf. Heb. 11:3). “Come into being,” “create,” and “made” in these passages are clearly referring to the same divine activities in Genesis 1 and 2. No distinction can be made between these Greek words in reference to Creation week. These Greek words in these texts are in the aorist tense. None of these words by themselves connote any specific time frame other than that, in these cases, they refer to completed past action. They cannot be interpreted to mean that the processes are still going on (which would require a different Greek verb tense—present tense). Therefore, they disallow an evolutionary meaning, since evolution is said to be a process that is continuing today.

Conclusion

This short study shows that there is no basis for saying that bara only means an instantaneous, out-of-nothing, supernatural creative action but that asah only means a slow, out-of-existing-material, natural process of making (under God’s providence, of course). In the creation account (Gen. 1:1-2:3) both words are used in reference to ex nihilo creation events and both are also used in reference to things God made from previously created material.

So, only the context in which the words are used can give the precise meaning, if there is a distinction to be made. The context of Genesis, indeed the whole Bible, is overwhelmingly in favor of interpreting both bara and asah in Genesis 1 as virtually instantaneous acts. Whether God created something out of nothing or created something from material that He had just made, the force of the words in context is that both kinds of activities were instantaneous and supernatural after God spoke “Let there be ... .” In Genesis 1 & 2 we should assume ex nihilo (out of nothing) creation unless the text clearly indicates otherwise (e.g., Gen. 2:7, 22).

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Footnotes

  1. A reader pointed out a mistake here which I would like to acknowledge and correct with this note. God is usually the subject of the verb bara, but not always. A few times in the Old Testament man is the subject of that verb (e.g., Joshua 17:15,18 and 1 Samuel 2:29, although in these cases bara is not translated as “create”). Back