The Bible opens with the emphatic phrase: “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). This short sentence (in Hebrew it is just one word: bere’shith) introduces the scriptural account of the origins of our beautiful blue planet. When God’s Scriptural word gave life to our world, He established the very foundational landmarks for the history of Planet Earth and its inhabitants.
The Epistle to the Hebrews recalls that the Lord “in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth” (Heb. 1:10). This assertion not only refers to the organization of physical matter, but also implies the establishment of the laws that regulate it. In the beginning God set the principles of His kingdom. In so doing, He affirmed the need, and therefore also the validity, of the moral laws that He would afterward reveal to humanity. This means that the bases for the laws that should govern our life were established for all God’s creatures since the beginning.
Thus, in a discussion with the Pharisees on the matter of divorce, Jesus refers to the authority of the Creation account to state which are for Him the only valid criteria for settling this matter: “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6). When the Pharisees replied, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (verse 7, NIV), Jesus reacted with a surprising answer: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (verse 8).
It is interesting to observe that Jesus appeals to the statement “from the beginning” as a basic hermeneutical tool to read the Scriptures when we are looking for answers to our ethical questions. Jesus takes as a historical reference the landmark event of Creation to draw principles for ethical Christian behavior.
If we want to keep balanced lives, what happened in the beginning must not be forgotten.
For Him the beginning, namely, the historical Creation event as recorded in the Genesis account, is the very source of the principles of moral behavior, which should be the ideals for the believers. When we are struggling trying to understand the Scriptures, we should follow the inspirational example of Jesus of looking further back in history to the Creation event, to find the foundational principles stated in the revealed Word of God as our guidelines.
With the statement “from the beginning it was not so,” Jesus shows to the Pharisees that Creation is also crucial to understand the spirit of the law given by God to Moses for a fallen world. Thus, although God reluctantly gave to fragile fallen humanity the permission for divorce in certain cases as a lesser evil, Jesus reminds us that if we look back to the Creation story we can discover God’s ideals, grasp their spirit, and enjoy their benefits for us.
If we understand that in the beginning God not only created the world with all its living creatures, but also stated the standards for moral behavior in His universal kingdom, we also understand why in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus referred to the Creation story, using its imagery to teach us how to behave. He talks about the salt of the earth to encourage us to have a meaningful presence in this world (Matt. 5:13). He reminds us that the birds of the sky, the flowers of the fields, and even the simple grass are permanent reminders of the profound confidence that we should put in the Creator’s providence (Matt. 6:26-30).
With the image of the good tree that produces good fruits, Jesus tells us that sooner or later our most hidden thoughts, intentions, and actions will be manifested to all (see Matt. 7:15-20; Luke 8:17). And finally, with the metaphor of the rock, we believers are encouraged to look for solid foundations upon which to build our lives (Matt. 7:24, 25). Thus, by drawing examples from the Creation, Jesus encourages us to aim toward higher ideals, that is, to keep always in mind the standards of His kingdom.
The parables of Jesus built from nature also have the goal to teach humanity important lessons of moral behavior. Although creation has been affected by sin, the ideal moral principles rooted in God’s laws are still inspiring us. The fertility of the good soil allows the seed (the good news) to produce abundant harvest (Matt. 13:8, 23). The grain of wheat that dies in the soil teaches us that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are willing to renounce themselves to serve God and others (John 12:24, 25). The surprising ongoing growth of the mustard seed shows that God’s work in us, even when it not noticed by others, is constant and never finished (Matt. 13:31, 32). In Him we experience eternal growth. As Ellen White observes, His education is everlasting.1
If we want to keep balanced lives, what happened in the beginning must not be forgotten. In looking back at the foundational event of Creation, we are inspired in our moral daily living as followers of Jesus. We want to be citizens of the new earth that God will re-create at the end of this era. Since the beginning, God has been teaching us how to become mature Christians. Although He might use laws adjusted to our fallen situation, He always invites us to look higher, to look at the Creation event for inspiration in order to overcome our limits.
The divine ethics are so deeply engrained in the laws of the universe that “when Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of.”2 Ellen White adds, “If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, . . . they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses.”3
Therefore, the commandments expressed with “you shall not steal” or “you shall not commit adultery” are founded on the ethical principles of the kingdom of God pervading all creation. For this reason Jesus summarizes them with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”(Matt. 22:37, NIV). And “Love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39, NIV). As the Creation event is an immense act of love, all moral behavior should flow from this first act of love expressed in the beginning,4 and be inspired by it.
The apostle John, writing about love, reminds us that this basic ethical principle comes from the creation event. He says: “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard” (1 John 2:7, NASB).
The Creation event is foundational to teach us that true ethics is neither a human construct nor just a remedy for the fallen world. Everlasting ethics are a transcendent reality, revealed by God not only in His Word! Ethics is rooted and continues to flow from the historical Creation event and from the ongoing creative power of God. Thus, the response of Jesus to the Pharisees, “From the beginning it was not so,” teaches us that our daily life, our reading and interpretation of the Scriptures, our moral behavior,
should be guided by the ideal principles of the Creation event. In a fallen world our daily options are sometimes not ideal and are limited by negative circumstances. Nevertheless, we can be sure that even if we must choose between a bad or a worse option, knowing that “from the beginning it was not so” will inspire our necessary choices to be coherent with the principles of God’s kingdom.
God has called each one of us in the line of service and duty. This work is at times difficult, but we should find inspiration in the opportunity to exemplify Christian moral behavior, rooted in the Creation, while waiting for Jesus’ second coming.
Davide Schiarabba is assistant professor of systematic theology and ethics, Religion Department, Andrews University.