Question of the week: Why is the Hebrew verb bara (for create) used in Genesis 1:21 when the Bible talks about God creating the sea creatures and birds but then not used in Genesis 1:25 where the Bible talks about God making the beasts of the earth, etc.? Since God created all the animals, why is bara not used in both Genesis 1:21 and Genesis 1:25?
My answer: Bara is used exclusively in Genesis 1 for God creating something brand new that did not exist previously. It is used in Genesis 1:1 for God creating the physical universe. It is used in Genesis 1:21 for God creating the first sea mammals and the first birds. Birds and mammals are distinct from microbes, insects, fish, and amphibians in that they are not just physical creatures, but creatures that are both physical and soulish. They are soulish in that God endowed them with mind, will, and emotions and the capacity to relate to and serve and please higher life-forms, namely human beings.
In Genesis 1, bara is used finally in Genesis 1:27 for God creating the first animals on Earth that are not just physical and soulish, like birds and other mammals, but also spiritual. These spiritual animals are human beings whom God endows with the capacity to discover, relate to, and to serve and please a higher Being, namely God himself.
Bara is not used in Genesis 1:25 because the different kinds of land mammals described in Genesis 1:24–25 are not the first land mammals that God made. Rather, Genesis 1:24–25 describes three subcategories of land mammals, the subcategories that would prove crucial for enabling human beings to launch and sustain civilization. A much longer description of the features and roles in serving human beings for many of these animals is described in Job 38:39–39:30. God created the three subcategories of land mammals mentioned in Genesis 1:24–25 long after he created the first land mammals. Hence, the different kinds of land mammals described in Genesis 1:24–25 are not brand new.
I provide a multi-chapter description and analysis of what God did during the six creation days of Genesis 1 in my book Navigating Genesis.1 A free chapter of that book is available to anyone at reasons.org/ross.