"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
Is there any question that Genesis 1:1 is the most popular verse in the Bible? Stop any man or woman on the street and ask them to quote you a Bible verse and this is likely the one you will hear. Not only is it the most famous chapter-and-verse reference, it's also a contender for the most controversial.
Okay, sure, Genesis 1:1 may not be the first verse that comes to mind when you think of controversy in the Bible. You're probably not going to incite a riot if you went out on the street and shouted it through a bullhorn (though you might get a ticket for violating a noise ordinance). There are plenty of other topics that would cause way more offense than Genesis 1:1. For example:
- A man laying with another man as one would lay with a woman is an abomination to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22).
- Women are to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).
- The Apostle Paul wished that the false teachers in Galatia would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12).
- Ezekiel gave a description of the Lord bathing his bride and then when she was unfaithful he repeatedly called her a whore (Ezekiel 16).
- A very fat Eglon was stabbed in his belly and he defecated on himself (Judges 3:17-25).
- If a woman were to enter an argument and grab a man by his testicles, she should have her hand cut off and be shown no pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).
See? Pretty controversial stuff. Already you're reconsidering using this book at family devotions. You were fine with Genesis 1:1, but once I started in on the other stuff—yeah, not so much.
But here's the thing—all of those "offensive" topics are conditional. They depend on the audience you share them with and whether or not that audience would find such a passage offensive. Certain things are more offensive in some cultures and not as much in others.
However, at some point everyone is going to face the reality that they are not the God of the universe. That's against our self-centered nature as we are all inclined to believe everything revolves around "me." The reason why anyone would submit to naturalism theories as ridiculous as the Big Bang, abiogenesis, or Darwinian evolution is because they are by their nature opposed to submitting to the Lord of all creation.
A person will not believe another word of the Bible if they don't believe its first ten words. What difference does the rest of it make if God did not create the heavens and the earth? Furthermore, he didn't simply make the universe like you'd make a sandcastle. He spoke all things into existence: "And God said," and it was, "And God said," and it was, "And God said," and it was. On and on it goes throughout the creation story. By the power of a command, all things came to be.
If the operations of the universe, even their very existence, are controlled by the command of God, that means we are, too. And that's offensive: to be told we are not God and are subject to his word whether we like it or not. Genesis 1:1 is more than a statement. It's more than the beginning of the greatest book of all-time. It's an assault on every other religious and secular ideal apart from the knowledge of the God of the Bible.
But there's an offense that's even greater than our being offended, and that's God being offended. We read in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created man in his own image. He gave a little bit of himself to the man, a living soul, when he breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 2:7). And yet we have taken that breath, given to use by God, and blasphemed him with it. We've taken the image we were made in and dragged it through filth. That's offensive. And God will judge our offenses.
Fortunately, God didn't leave us clueless to our offense. He gave us his word. Yes, the very God of the universe who spoke all things into existence speaks to us as well. He speaks to us through the Bible. The Bible shows us the reality of our offenses against God, or what we should know as "sin." It is necessary for us to know our sin or else we don't realize that we are under God's judgment in need of a Savior.
Better than just showing us our guilt, God has also given us deliverance—through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus died in our place for our offenses so that if we are in Christ, we have right-standing with God. More than that, we have fellowship with God! Yes, the God who is holding all things together (Colossians 1:17) wants to be with us. That relationship is possible through the Creator of all things, Jesus Christ (John 1:3).
Why does he do all of this? Because he loves us. He loves us enough that though we have sinned, though we have greatly offended him, though we desecrated his image and blasphemed him with the breath he gave us, he died for us. We read about his love, his deliverance, his fellowship, his greatness when we read His Word.
Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Let us fill ourselves with God's word so that we might believe and know that he is God—the God who loves us.
Who said it? Likely Moses wrote Genesis.
To whom? To the children of Israel.
What was the setting? Genesis may have been written during the 40 years the Israelites were exiled to wander in the desert.
When did this happen? Somewhere between 1,500 and 1,300 B.C.
How did he say it? Through the writing of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
Why did he say it? That Israel would know against prevailing pagan myths that God is the Creator of all things, and all things came into existence and are governed by his commands.