“Bara” is the first word translated “create” that we meet in the scriptures, in the Bible’s opening statement in fact. I will indicate the English word’s derivation in brackets. “In the beginning, God created (bara) the heavens and the Earth”. (In this case, and in subsequent examples, I will ignore any grammatical variations of the basic Hebrew words and write “bara”, “yatzar” or “asah” in the appropriate positions).
“Bara” is a fascinating word because it is reserved to describe God’s activity exclusively. Throughout scripture, we find that humankind can “yatzar” and “asah” but never “bara”. Perhaps for this reason, many scholars believe it denotes “create out of nothing” as only God can do. While this may be a simplified version of its usage in some passages, in others it describes the Creation of Jerusalem (Isaiah 65:18), of Israel (Isaiah 43:15) and of individual people (Malachi 2:10), all of which, on our planet anyway, involved pre-existent material.
“Bara” is translated at times as “formulated” or “prepared” rather than simply “created”, and I feel its deeper meaning is seen in these alternative words. They represent the formative or design stages of creating something.
“Bara” emphasises the preparation and formulation stages of a creative act of God. It is thereby the initial design stage that launches the act itself.
Only God’s incredible intellect could formulate or design something like the heavens and the Earth, or the other activities we see associated with “bara”. It is this that makes “bara” unique and divine.
This association of “bara” with the formative design aspects of God’s inventive activity does not mean it is fully replaceable with the word “design”.
“Bara” does mean “to create”, but is simplified by thinking of it as his “design input” into the creative process. I know of no single English word to convey this meaning adequately. Though it is an oversimplification, many passages are clarified tolerably by translating “bara” as “design” and I will do so on occasion, but please remember that it means more than that. The “preparation” and “formulation” of something new incorporates more than design alone, but it would be clumsy to replace “bara” with two words each time—so “design” will do.
To make a new toy, or cooking implement, mobile phone app, or anything novel, perceptive design is needed as the first practical step. Therefore “bara” is commonly used in scripture to describe the beginning of God’s resourceful processes, initiating something new. For example:
Jeremiah 31:22, describing a fundamental change about to take place, “The Lord will create (bara) a new thing on Earth”.
Numbers 16:30, “But if the Lord brings about (bara) something totally new, and the Earth opens its mouth and swallows them…”
Isaiah 48:6,7, “I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created (bara) now and not long ago”.
Isaiah 65:17, “I will create (bara) New Heavens and a New Earth”.
Please note that God’s ingenious design input did not stop in Genesis—it is ongoing and continues until today, and will do so during all our tomorrows.
God is creative—from our experience and biblical knowledge, he always has been, and from prophetic statements that extend into our future, he always will be.
God’s active initiation of new things is a feature of who he is.
We see this in scripture, for example in Isaiah 48:7 “They are created (bara) now and not long ago” and in Psalm 104:24,29,30:
The Earth is full of your creatures… When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created (bara—long tense—continuing process) and you renew the face of the ground.
God’s Spirit is therefore intimately involved in the cycles of life, death, and new developments that we find currently in our world. The fact that “bara” has been used in the long, continuing tense in the quote above suggests a progression of “redesign” may even be involved—perhaps corresponding to the “adaptation” of Biologists.
I have heard the hollow argument that God stopped working on Day 6 of Creation and has not continued creating, a sort of Christian version of the old secular “God is Dead” philosophy. There are many scriptures to refute this. Consider, as another, Christ’s words in John 5:17—“My Father is always at his work, to this very day…”. NDEs illustrate comprehensively this continuing involvement, and so does answered prayer, fulfilment of prophecies, and the inspired modern miracles that I and many others have had the privilege to investigate or experience for ourselves. Both Brenda and I have had the wonder of miracles happening instantly in our own bodies.
“Bara” does not necessarily mean “created out of nothing” or “Ex Nihilo”, but can do so on occasion. Peter Haycock15 notes that it can mean “made out of nothing previously created”—and the distinction is important. To quote Peter:
Most Jewish sources suggest that God compressed matter out of his divine energy; that is, vortexed energy into atomic matter rather than that matter cost nothing of God save his spoken thought and design. “Ex Nihilo” has the idea of “out of nothing” but is inadequate compared to the Hebrew word suggesting actual inherent energy, though not derived from the essence of God Himself as in the pantheism of Hindu understanding.
Those interested in Astronomy will have noticed the match of the Jewish interpretation with some modern thinking; that atomic material might have condensed out of energy soon after the “Big Bang”. While there are difficulties with this simple hypothesis, many still hold to it and in my opinion it is likely to be at least partially correct, but only if it was driven by divine “bara”.
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