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Reading the Creation Story on the Shoulders of Giants

Voices from the Past, Wisdom for the Present

The ESV Church History Study Bible is grounded upon the basic point that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us. Charles Spurgeon once encouraged his students to read commentaries, noting that the Holy Spirit is not an exclusive or individual gift to any one believer. Since we know that the Holy Spirit teaches us, we can know that the Holy Spirit teaches others. And the Holy Spirit has been teaching the church throughout the corridors of time. We stand downstream from two millennia of gifted teachers and teaching. This study Bible aims to introduce readers today to these teachers from the past.1

Reflect on God's creation of the universe and read below selections from Genesis 1–2 along with commentary notes from giants of the faith, such as John Calvin, Thomas Manton, Anselm, and Augustine.

ESV Church History Study Bible

The ESV Church History Study Bible is designed to help believers in all seasons of life understand the Bible—featuring 20,000 study notes from church history’s most prominent figures.

In the Beginning

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. —Genesis 1:1–2

Since the infinite wisdom of God is displayed in the admirable structure of heaven and earth, it is absolutely impossible to unfold the history of the creation of the world in terms equal to its dignity. For while the measure of our capacity is too contracted to comprehend things of such magnitude, our tongue is equally incapable of giving a full and substantial account of them. —John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1

The creator could have made his work perfect at first, but by this gradual proceeding he would show what is, ordinarily, the method of his providence and grace. God is not only the author of all being, but the fountain of life and spring of motion. Dead matter would be forever dead if he did not quicken it. And this makes it credible to us that God should raise the dead. That power that brought such a world as this out of confusion, emptiness, and darkness at the beginning of time can, at the end of time, bring our vile bodies out of the grave, though it is a land of darkness as darkness itself, and without any order (Job 10:22), and can make them glorious bodies. —Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible

The First Day

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. —Genesis 1:3–5

This glorious work Paul applies to our regeneration: “God who said that out of darkness light should shine, he has shined in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4:6), that we who “were once darkness, are now light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). Yea, God himself, and Christ, is called light for the brightness of his glory and graces given unto us (1 John 1:5, 7; John 1:4–5; Pss. 27:1; 118:27). —Henry Ainsworth, Annotations on the Pentateuch, vol. 1

God saw the light, that it was good. It was exactly as he designed it, and it was fit to answer the end for which he designed it. It was useful and profitable; the world, which now is a palace, would have been a dungeon without it. It was amiable and pleasant. Truly the light is sweet (Eccles. 11:7); it rejoices the heart (Prov. 15:30). What God commands he will approve and graciously accept of and be well pleased with the work of his own hands. That is good indeed, which is so in the sight of God, for he sees not as man sees. If the light be good, how good is he that is the fountain of light, from which we receive it, and to whom we owe all praise for it, and all the services we do by it! —Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible

God does not leave his works nameless. He who made them and knew their properties and uses gave them their names; for names are the properties or features of a being or thing expressed to the ear or eye in words, so that he who hears or reads them may at once understand what the thing or being is, and wherein it differs from other things and beings. —Horatius Bonar, Earth’s Morning: Or, Thoughts on Genesis

The Second Day

6And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. —Genesis 1:6–8

We should be led by the contemplation of the heavens that are in our eye to consider our Father, who is in heaven. The height of the heavens should remind us of God’s supremacy, and the infinite distance that is between us and him; the brightness of the heavens and their purity should remind us of his glory and majesty, and perfect holiness; the vastness of the heavens, their encompassing of the earth, and the influence they have upon it should remind us of his immensity and universal providence. —Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible

The Third Day

11And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. —Genesis 1:11–13

This day’s work, which God pronounces good, and which he dates, as in other places, may be called either the clothing or the painting of creation. Figure, size, proportion, had all been given before, but still earth was a dark-brown mass of mingled soil and rock. But now the command goes out for its adornment. For God’s purpose is to make it a world of beauty as well as of stability, seeing he is himself the possessor and source of all that is beautiful. —Horatius Bonar, Earth’s Morning: Or, Thoughts on Genesis

The Fourth Day

16And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. —Genesis 1:16–19

Moses wrote in a popular style things that, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant but also very useful to be known; it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. —John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1

Let us look up to God in this work, and meditate on it at fit times, in the morning so soon as we are awake, and begin to see the darkness vanquished, and the light conquering, and that the sun is raised above our horizon, and is come to visit our parts again. How great a journey has the sun gone in this little time wherein I have been asleep, and could observe nothing, and now returned again as it were to call me up? Lord, you have made night; I have the benefit of it, and now light visits me. O that I could honor you, and magnify your power and the greatness of your hand, and use the light of the day to do the services that are required at my hand in my place. —Edward Leigh, A System or Body of Divinity

The Fifth Day

20And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. —Genesis 1:20–23

If he speaks to the rocks, they rent; if to the mountains, they melt; if to the earth, it opens; if to the sea, it yields up her dead; if to the whole host of heaven, they tremble, and stand amazed, waiting his pleasure. And shall he not prevail by his mighty power, the same that he put forth in the raising of his Son Christ (Eph. 1:19), to raise us from the death of sin, to make us a people created again (Ps. 102:18)? —John Trapp, A Clavis to the Bible, or a New Comment upon the Pentateuch

The Sixth Day

26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27So God created man in his own image,
      in the image of God he created him;
      male and female he created them.

28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. —Genesis 1:26–31

Consider therefore the greatness and dignity that he bestowed upon you at the beginning of your creation, and judge for yourself with what love and reverence he ought to be worshiped. For when, as he was creating and ordering the whole world of things visible and invisible, he had determined to create the nature of man, he took high counsel concerning the dignity of your condition, forasmuch as he determined to honor you more highly than all other creatures that are in the world. —Anselm, Devotions of Saint Anselm

Do not so mind comfort as to slight holiness, and divide one part of your calling from the other. Comfort is consequent to holiness, and follows it as heat does fire. The Spirit is more necessarily a sanctifier than a comforter, for our duty and obedience to God is a greater thing than our own peace. Holiness is the image of God upon the soul and the blessed perfection wherein we were created. —Thomas Manton, Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 3

It is of great importance that we touch nothing of God’s bounty but what we know he has permitted us to do, since we cannot enjoy anything with a good conscience, except we receive it as from the hand of God. And therefore Paul teaches us that, in eating and drinking, we always sin, unless faith be present (Rom. 14:23). Thus we are instructed to seek from God alone whatever is necessary for us, and in the very use of his gifts we are to exercise ourselves in meditating on his goodness and paternal care. —John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1

He is a great housekeeper, a very rich and bountiful one, that satisfies the desire of every living thing. Let this encourage God’s people to cast their care upon him and not to be solicitous respecting what they shall eat and what they shall drink. He that provided for Adam without his care, and still provides for all the creatures without their care, will not let those that trust him want any good thing (Matt. 6:26). He that feeds his birds will not starve his babes. —Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible

On each of the days, simple approbation was given. But now, after the workmanship of the world was complete in all its parts, and had received, if I may so speak, the last finishing touch, he pronounces it perfectly good, that we may know that there is in the symmetry of God’s works the highest perfection, to which nothing can be added. —John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1

The Seventh Day

1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. —Genesis 2:1–3

The creatures comprehended in heaven and earth are called a host, not only by reason of their great multitude and diversity, their exact order, singular luster, and decency, but also for that they are all entertained and governed by God as their commander general and must always stand ready for his service. —Dutch Annotations

For we shall ourselves be the seventh day, when we shall be filled and replenished with God’s blessing and sanctification. There shall we be still, and know that he is God, that he is that which we ourselves aspired to be when we fell away from him and listened to the voice of the seducer, “Ye shall be as gods,” and so abandoned God, who would have made us as gods, not by deserting him but by participating in him. For without him what have we accomplished, save to perish in his anger? But when we are restored by him, and perfected with greater grace, we shall have eternal leisure to see that he is God, for we shall be full of him when he shall be all in all. —Augustine, The City of God


  1. Stephen J. Nichols, ESV Church History Study Bible, vii.

This article is adapted from the ESV Church History Study Bible: Voices from the Past, Wisdom for the Present.

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