“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Genesis 1:1
I recently started reading “A Commentary on the Torah” by Friedman. He essentially wrote his own translation, which seems similar to the JPS translation (Jewish Publication Society). I would hope that such a translation would do its best to stay true to the original Hebrew language. There is some interesting wordplay in his translation that is missed in some of the more popular translations such as the NASB, King James or NKJV. So far reading this translation and commentary has been quite enlightening, but the very first verse in Genesis might scare some people away. In reading the first verse of Genesis in Robert Alter (another Jewish commentary) confirms the understanding of the original Hebrew.
Most Christians hold that God made creation ex nihilo, which is latin for “out of nothing”. In both Jewish translations however, the original Hebrew scripture is rendered as “In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the earth”. To some this translation may be exactly what they are looking for to disprove a literal six-day creation, or potentially even a step toward proving evolution, but I disagree, even if that was the intent. I believe it is just saying that God was working with matter that was already there. Note, even if this is the case, it does not mean that God did not create that very matter previously – of course He did!
In other words, if this understanding of the original Hebrew is accurate (that is, the present tense of ‘creating’ rather than ‘created’ like most of our bibles read), then I would simply hold that at some point before the narrative of creating the heavens and the earth began, God created the matter He would work with in the near future. Then, once our familiar narrative of creation picks up, He begins to use the matter He previously created for that purpose.
Some may take up issue with this, but there is really nothing challenging sound doctrine going on here. For instance, we know that angels are created beings, but there is no account of the creation of angels during the six-day creation that humans are familiar with. In other words, Genesis 1 seems to focus largely on ‘our universe’ as we know it (or at the very least, our solar system), but this does not necessarily cover every single thing that God created. In summation, in the beginning of everything, there was only God, therefore by definition everything He created was ex nihilo (out of nothing). It is really just a question then of what stage of the overall creation of God our scriptures begin with.