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  • Differentiation in Genesis 1: An Exegetical Creation ex nihilo
  • Richard Neville

Paul Beauchamp championed the idea that the noun (“kind, type”) introduced the concept of differentiation to the creation narrative in Genesis 1. It was his contention that “just as the immutable works are subjected to the principle of separation (hib̠dîl), so also are the mutable ones subjected to the principle of differentiation (mîn . . .).”1 Since then it has become something of a commonplace in biblical scholarship to associate the phrase “after its kind” with the larger theme of God bringing order to his creation by means of separation and distinction. Just as God separated light from darkness (Gen 1:4) and water above from water below (1:6), so also he distinguished the plants and animals “each according to its kind.” In his comments on the creation account, John Goldingay has a section entitled “God Arranged,” which includes subsections “Making Distinctions,” “The Structuring of the Cosmos,” and “The Structuring of Nature.” In this last subsection Goldingay observes that, although the language of separation is not applied to animals and plants as it is to other elements in the creation account, the same point is made using the language of differentiation: “an analogous point is made about the different living elements within nature, which were made distinctive from one another. They belong to different ‘kinds’ (mîn; Gen 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25).”2 Kenneth A. Mathews had already come to the conclusion that “just as ‘separations’ [End Page 209] are integral to creation, so are distinctions among living things as indicated by their ‘kinds.’”3

When commentators combine this interest in distinctions and divisions with the notion that God has invested plant and animal life with the capacity to reproduce, they conclude that Genesis 1 records how God established boundaries for reproduction, “As with fish and fowl (vv. 20–22), God set reproductive parameters (‘according to their kinds’) for these creatures. The major groupings are domesticated cattle, crawlers, and wild animals (v. 24). The text emphasizes that within the animal world there were limitations for each group.”4 These reproductive boundaries serve as comfort to humanity, since they address concerns of the kind, “when we plant corn seed, will we get corn or some other vegetable? Do we have to do something special to make sure that corn seed produces corn rather than beans?”5

Some English translations make this emphasis on differentiation and reproductive boundaries explicit.

Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on earth, bearing fruit with their seed inside, each corresponding to its own species.

(Gen 1:11 NJB)

God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to reproduce more of its own kind.

(Gen 1:25 New Living Translation)

Beauchamp detects a level of analogy between differentiation in the creation account and the stipulations contained in the Mosaic law, “In their own turn, separation and differentiation are closely related to law: the divine law that puts an end to chaos, the Mosaic law that is to prevent mixing of species (kil’ayim) (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9–11).”6 Gordon J. Wenham suggests that the creation account implies that “what God has distinguished and created distinct, man ought not to confuse (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9–11).”7Mathews also juxtaposes the divinely imposed limitations of the creation account and the prescriptions that governed Israel’s daily life.

Inherently, the created order possesses divinely imposed limitations that establish self-maintained and governed systematic categories. The Hebrews experienced limitations and prescriptions that governed their daily lives as part of the community of God. The great Architect of the universe does not permit the colors of his canvas to run together.8 [End Page 210]

All this differentiation suggests to Goldingay that in bringing the world into being “Yhwh was involved in dividing like a priest.”9

Claus Westermann, while recognizing the emphasis on distinctions in Genesis 1, rejects even a foreshadowing here of the later divisions of animal life into clean and unclean. For him, the divisions in Genesis 1 show P’s systematic way of thinking. This thinking “goes far...


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