So how does the Bible begin its story?
Genesis is the book of beginnings. The Hebrew title for the book is "in the beginning." The Greek title, from which English translations derive the title Genesis, means "beginnings" or "generations." In fact, the book is organized by its account of "beginnings" or "generations, " eleven in all. Each sequence is introduced by the expression, "These are the generations of . . . " or something similar.The first appearance does not occur, however, until Genesis 2:4, after the first creation account with which the Bible opens its pages.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
The word beginning in this instance means the first in time, order, or rank. Most ancient readers or listeners of this scripture understood this passage in that simple, understandable way. And I believe that most of us misunderstand scripture because we do not read them this way--the way of ancient peoples.
The consensus of modern science about the age and origins of the universe posed some challenges for Christians. Consequently, most modern interpreters of the scriptures incorporate modern scientific ideas into their commentaries on this and other passages. Some of them suggest that this passage describes the creation of the material particles, the physical forces, and time itself that constitute the concept of space-time. And because God created all things out of nothing, he might be described as the “exnihilator” of the universe. This is quite an elaboration on a brief text penned by some iron age Bedouin.
Because God is conceived as an infinite and eternally existing entity, how his existence relates to the created universe is perplexing question. Even the attempts by modern scientists and philosophers to describe the concept of time itself are incredibly complex. It is beyond my competence to even attempt to explain. I do find appealing, however, the following brief passage by Isaac Newton:
“Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external, and by another name is called duration: relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.”
Newton conceives of time in two ways. Absolute time exists eternally. It is unrelated to the material universe and its motions. Consequently, absolute time is immeasurable time. God exists within this time. Relative time began with creation. It is measurable by motion within the material universe.
To modern readers, then, "In the Beginning" means the start of relative measurable time and space.