Understanding Genesis 1-3 is supremely important for helping us understand the rest of Scripture and salvation history. Genesis is communicating historical events in an allegorical manner. The story is true, but the writer (generally believed to be Moses) communicates it in a way that teaches moral truths. Click here for Catechism paragraphs 279-421.
St. Augustine: “Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks, time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them.”
1:1 – “In the beginning God created….” In the beginning of what? Of creation. Before creation, there was nothing. Thus, God created ex nihilo, meaning from nothing.
1:2 – “Spirit of God was moving….” God did not simply create and abandon (deism). He creates and forms. The Spirit moving over creation signifies God’s love for creation. Imagine a parent who cares (moves) for their child vs. one who abandons or moves away from their child. Also, “movement” is another indication that this is an allegory based on true events, since God does not actually move.
Notice that 1:4 says, “And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” He does not say the darkness was good, or evil for that matter. Now, darkness is not actually evil but an allegory for evil. It is a privation of light (allegorically, a defect), which God allows but does not create. Notice also that God only works in the light. After He finishes His work each day, Scripture says, “and there was evening and there was morning, the X day.” Thus, Genesis is teaching us that God’s work is good. If He worked in darkness, it would be as if He’s hiding something. Also, God separates good from evil. God is light (Isaiah 9:2, 1 John 1:5).
1:5 – “God called the light day and the darkness night.” Day (Heb: yom) means light in general and night means darkness, not a 24-hour cycle. This is not talking about the time of the sun and the moon, which occurs in 1:14, when God makes the sun and the moon. Gen. 2:4 – “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens….” Day means an age or group of “days.” Shows allegorical nature of the creation story.
1:5-25 – These verses are telling us that God forms and gives order to creation. God separates the earth from the sky, ground from water, night from day. And he fills the earth with vegetation and moving creatures, the sky with birds, etc., and the seas with “swarms of living creatures.” We must not assume that Genesis is telling us how God did this.
1:16 – “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” Even in the night, there is light. When we have darkened our souls with sin, the true Light presents Himself dimly, waiting for us to turn to Him.
At the end of each day, Genesis says, “And God saw that it was good.” Everything God makes is good. God does not make evil in any way. Evil is a privation or abuse of good, an absence of a good that should be there. Good is proper to everything that God makes.
1:26 – God creates man in His image and likeness. Our souls are pure spirit (image), and we are made to reflect God’s goodness (likeness), which includes the abilities to know, understand, and will for good ends. Also, if God works, and His works are good, and we are made in his image and likeness, then we are made for good works. Something is good when it functions as it ought (1 John 3:7). Thus, if God is good, then we are good when we function as we ought. When God reconciles us by grace through faith and baptism, we are required to continue in the faith by rejecting sin and by doing good works.
1:27 – “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” God is not male or female. Therefore, being made in God’s image has nothing to do with gender. However, “male and female He created them” joins “in the image of God He created him” because God reveals that He endowed man with His creative power to create other persons. In other words, God gives humans the ability to create persons, those made in His image and likeness, when a man and a woman join together in sexual union. [This will be crucial when we discuss morality and natural law.]
1:28 – God gives a positive command to multiply and exercise dominion. St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae pt. 1, q.94, a.3) says man had all knowledge necessary to understand natures and to govern the earth. He also had supernatural knowledge to direct his life to the supernatural end, who is God.
1:31 – After God made man, “God saw everything He made, and behold, it was very good.” God endows only man with universal understanding. Man doesn’t simply know one dog, for example, he understands the essence of all dogs, etc. This ability to understand universals allows him to care for all creation. Man, made in the image and likeness of God is the pinnacle of creation. He alone possesses the ability to commune with God via acts of the intellect and will and to care for creation.
1:1-2:3 is merely showing us that God creates from nothing, that His work is good, that we are the pinnacle of His work, and that we should have one day in which we abide in His rest. God’s “resting” merely means He completed creation. If I rest from building my house, I do not rest from caring for it. God’s resting equates to Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” on the sixth day. God finished His work at the end of the sixth day. Similarly, at the end of the sixth day, Jesus finished his redemptive work on the Cross. On the seventh day, Jesus rested in the tomb. On the Eighth Day, Sunday, Jesus made all things new at the moment of his Resurrection. We are called to participate in this Eighth Day.