GENESIS 1:10 OTBDC: Is the Hebrew word for “earth” the same here as is used in Genesis 1:1, and do they mean the same thing?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Genesis 1:1, 10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [אֶרֶץ erets]. 10 God called the dry land Earth [אֶרֶץ erets], and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

The Hebrew word (אֶרֶץ erets), which has some twenty-two different meanings, is in both verse 1 and verse 10. Erets refers to (1) earth, as contrasted to the heavens (Gen 1:1); (2) or more restricted to all the dry land of the earth (1:10); (3) or restricted even further by referring to just the land of a particular section of the earth (Gen 10:10); (4) or ground (Gen 1:26); (5) or people of the human race (Gen 18:25).

Many people do not realize that all words have more than one sense (meaning). The context will determine which sense belongs to the use under consideration. For example, we have the Greek word (κόσμος kosmos), which has at least eight different meanings. In John 3:16, “For God so loved the world [κόσμος kosmos] that he gave his only begotten Son …,” kosmos does not have the standard meaning of “world” or “earth,” but instead has the sense of redeemable making that God so loved. Then, in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world [κόσμος kosmos] or the things in the world …” is referring to people, those estranged from God. In 1 Peter 3:3, “Do not let your adornment [κόσμος kosmos] be external, the braiding of hair and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothing,” has a meaning that we would not even suspect, adornment. “Kosmos” has various senses. The concept of beauty is found in the sense of order and symmetry, so kosmos also expresses that thought and was used by the Greeks to mean “adornment,” which was especially true of women.

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Thus, the Hebrew word (אֶרֶץ erets) in Genesis 1:1 “God created the heavens and the earth [אֶרֶץ erets] is referring to the entire planet, which is being contrasted with the heavens, that is the universes. Then, again, at Genesis 1:10, “God called the dry land Earth [אֶרֶץ erets],” is being contrasted with “the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.” Erets can also mean soil, dirt, i.e., the natural material of which the earth is made, some of which is suitable for planting (Lev 26:20). It can mean country, region, territory, i.e., specific large areas of the earth where distinct cultures or kingdoms dwell (Ge 12:1). Or, it may mean people, i.e., a group or groups that live on the earth (Isa 37:18). It also has the meaning of space, i.e., an area of any size, inside or outside (Eze 42:6).[1]

Genesis 2:5–9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Creation of Man and Woman

5 Now no bush of the field was yet in the land [אֶרֶץ erets] and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up, for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain on the land [אֶרֶץ erets], and there was no man to work the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth [אֶרֶץ erets] and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 Then Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8 And Jehovah God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground Jehovah God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, we can see here that (אֶרֶץ erets) is being used in reference to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve dwelt. The context will determine which sense belongs to the use of (אֶרֶץ erets) being considered, as to what Moses meant by its use.

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Old Testament Bible scholar Dr. Gleason L. Archer offers more insights into this issue,

While it is reasonable to assume that God’s creation referred to in Genesis 1:1 was “perfect,” this fact is not actually so stated until after v.10 After the separation of water from dry land, it is mentioned that this work of creation was “good” (Heb. 2̣tó, not the Hebrew word for “perfect,” tāmím, which does not occur until Gen. 6:9, where it refers to the “blamelessness” of Noah). The “goodness” of God’s creative work is mentioned again in Genesis 1:12, 18, 21, 25, and Genesis 1:31 (the last of which states, “And God saw all that he had made, and, behold, it was very good,” NASB). In the light of these citations, it would be difficult to maintain that God’s creative work in Genesis 1:2 and thereafter was not really “good”; on the other hand, nowhere is it actually affirmed that it was “perfect”—though the term ó may well have implied perfection.

As for the reference to the earth’s being “waste and void” (Heb. ṯōhú wāḇōhú) in Genesis 1:2, it is not altogether clear whether this was a subsequent and resultant condition after a primeval catastrophe, as some scholars understand it (interpreting the verb hāyeṯāh as “became” rather than “was”). It may simply have been that Genesis 1:1 serves as an introduction to the six-stage work of creation that is about to be described in the rest of chapter 1. In that case there is no intervening catastrophe to be accounted for; and the six creative days are to be understood as setting forth the orderly progressive stages in which God first completed his work of creating the planet Earth as we know it today.

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Those who construe hāyeṯāh (“was”) as “became” (a meaning more usually associated with this verb when it is followed by the preposition le occurring before the thing or condition into which the subject is turned) understand this to indicate a primeval catastrophe possibly associated with the rebellion of Satan against God, as suggested by Isaiah 14:10–14. That passage seems to imply that behind the arrogant defiance of the king of Babylon against the Lord there stands as his inspiration and support the prince of hell himself, who once said in his heart, “I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14); this language would hardly have proceeded from the lips of any mortal king).

In 2 Peter 2:4 we read that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” Those who espouse this interpretation suggest that a major disaster overtook the created heaven and earth mentioned in Genesis 1:1, as a result of which the earth needed to be restored—perhaps even recreated—in the six creative days detailed in the rest of Genesis 1.

It must be understood, however, that there is no explicit statement anywhere in Scripture that the primeval fall of Satan was accompanied by a total ruin of earth itself; it is simply an inference or conjecture, which may seem persuasive to some Bible students but be somewhat unconvincing to others. This, in brief, is the basis for the catastrophe theory.[2]

Again, in short, the Hebrew word (אֶרֶץ erets) in Genesis 1:1 refers to the entire planet, which is being contrasted with the heavens, that is, the universes. Then, again, at Genesis 1:10, “the dry land Earth [אֶרֶץ erets],” is being contrasted with “the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.” That is, in 1:10, dry land is being contrasted with the waters and the seas.

[1] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[2] Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 65–66.

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