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Genesis 1:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 The earth was without form and empty; and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
 That is, watery deep, an area below the surface of bodies of water
הָיָה hayah be, i.e., to possess certain characteristics whether inherent or transitory (Ge 1:2). This verb occurs only in Hebrew and Aramaic. The Old Testament attests hayah about 3,560 times, in both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Often this verb indicates more than simple existence or identity (this may be indicated by omitting the verb altogether). Rather, the verb makes a strong statement about the being or presence of a person or thing. Yet the simple meaning “become” or “come to pass” appears often in the English versions.
The verb can be used to emphasize the presence of a person (e.g., God’s Spirit—Judg. 3:10), an emotion (e.g., fear—Gen. 9:2), or a state of being (e.g., evil—Amos 3:6). In such cases, the verb indicates that their presence (or absence) is noticeable—it makes a real difference to what is happening.
On the other hand, in some instances hayah does simply mean “happen, occur.” Here the focus is on the simple occurrence of the events—as seen, for example, in the statement following the first day of creation: “And so it happened” (Gen. 1:7). In this sense, hayah is frequently translated “it came to pass.”
The use of this verb with various particles colors its emphasis accordingly. In passages setting forth blessing or cursing, for example, this verb not only is used to specify the object of the action but also the dynamic forces behind and within the action. Gen. 12:2, for example, records that God told Abram: “… I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be [hayah] a blessing.” Abram was already blessed, so God’s pronouncement conferred upon him a future blessedness. The use of hayah in such passages declares the actual release of power, so that the accomplishment is assured—Abram will be blessed because God has ordained it.
In another set of passages, hayah constitutes intent rather than accomplishment. Hence, the blessing becomes a promise and the curse a threat (cf. Gen. 15:5).
Finally, in a still weaker use of hayah, the blessing or curse constitutes a wish or desire (cf. Ps. 129:6). Even here the verb is somewhat dynamic, since the statement recognizes God’s presence, man’s faithfulness (or rebellion), and God’s intent to accomplish the result pronounced.
In miracle accounts, hayah often appears at the climax of the story to confirm the occurrence of the event itself. Lot’s wife looked back and “became” a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26); the use of hayah emphasizes that the event really occurred. This is also the force of the verb in Gen. 1:3, in which God said, “Let there be light.” He accomplished His word so that there was light.
The prophets use hayah to project God’s intervention in the future. By using this verb, they emphasize not so much the occurrence of predicted events and circumstances as the underlying divine force that will effect them (cf. Isa. 2:2).
Legal passages use hayah in describing God’s relationship to His covenant people, to set forth what is desired and intended (cf. Exod. 12:16). When covenants were made between two partners, the formulas usually included hayah (Deut. 26:17–18; Jer. 7:23).
One of the most debated uses of hayah occurs in Exod. 3:14, where God tells Moses His name. He says: “I am [hayah] that I am [hayah].” Since the divine name Jehovah or Yahweh was well-known long before (cf. Gen. 4:1), this revelation seems to emphasize that the God who made the covenant was the God who kept the covenant. So Exod. 3:14 is more than a simple statement of identity: “I am that I am”; it is a declaration of divine control of all things (cf. Hos. 1:9).
תֹּחוּ וָבֹהוּ formlessness, emptiness, i.e., a state of empty space and so nothingness, so not having a shape, implied to be a state prior to order and form (Ge 1:2). emptiness, the void, i.e., an emptiness that shows lack of order (Ge 1:2; Jer 4:23+), note: some interpret this as a void from a prior creation.
חָשַׁךְ chashak darkness, the dark, i.e., the lack of light in a space (Ge 1:4; Ex 10:21).
פָּנֶה paneh surface, face, i.e., the two dimensional area of an object usually conceived as on top (the surface) of the object (Ge 1:2; 2:6).
תְּהוֹם tehom or תְּהֹם tehom the deep, the depths, i.e., an area below the surface of bodies of water, a dark, inaccessible, inexhaustible, and mysterious place controlled only by objects with vast powers (Ge 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; 49:25; Ex 15:5, 8; Dt 33:13; Job 28:14).
רוּחַ ruach breath, wind, soul, spirit. Regarding the planet Earth in its early formative stages, the record states that “God’s “Spirit” (ruach)] was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Ge 1:2) Psalm 33:6 says: “By the word of Jehovah the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their army.”
רָחַף rachaph hover, i.e., a non-linear flying motion of an object which is stationary above a surface, with a possibly associative meaning of caring superintendence over an object (Ge 1:2; Dt 32:11+).
וְהָאָרֶץ weha arets Now the earth. Here the conjunction attaches the noun, and not the verb, to the preceding statement. This is therefore a connection of objects in space, and not of events in time. The present sentence, accordingly, may not stand closely conjoined in point of time with the preceding one. To intimate sequence in time the conjunction would have been prefixed to the verb in the form וַתּֽהִי then was.
אֶרֶץ erets 1. world, earth, i.e., the surface of the earth, where humankind lives (Ge 1:28); 2. land, ground, i.e., a dry surface in contrast to bodies of water (Ge 1:10); 3. soil, dirt, i.e., the natural material of which the earth is made, some of which is suitable for planting (Lev 26:20); 4. country, region, territory, i.e., specific large areas of the earth where distinct cultures or kingdoms dwell (Ge 12:1); 5. people, i.e., a group or groups that live on the earth (Isa 37:18); 6. space, i.e., an area of any size, inside or outside (Eze 42:6).
Earth. Term used for our inhabited planet; the world, as distinguished from heaven and hell; land; soil; and in several other ways. Biblical usage is as broad as modern usage.
One Hebrew word translated “earth” is also used generically for “man,” or Adam (Gn 2:7, 19). That word refers to reddish soil from which Adam’s body was made. Another Hebrew word translated “earth” or “land” can refer to a country (Gn 21:21). A word translated “dust” can mean simply earth or dry ground (Gn 3:19). In the NT one Greek word translated “earth” can refer to a land or country (Mt 27:45). The Greek word from which “ecumenical” is derived refers to the whole inhabited earth (Lk 21:26) or the Roman Empire of those days (Lk 2:1).
GENESIS 1:1 OTBDC: Is the earth only 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Are the creative days, literally, only 24 hours long?
In the beginning “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.… And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation’ ” (Gn 1:10, 11). In some passages “the earth” is used in essentially the modern sense for the whole planet (Jb 1:7), hanging in empty space (Jb 26:7). References to the earth’s four corners (Is 11:12; Ez 7:2) allude to the points of a compass, not to the earth’s shape. The circle of the earth probably refers to the circumference of the horizon (Is 40:22; cf. Jb 38:13). The earth is sometimes pictured as supported on pillars (Jb 9:6; Ps 75:3) or foundations (Ps 104:5; Prv 8:29; Is 24:18; Jer 31:37). Since many of the biblical usages are found in figurative passages of poetry or prophecy, they reveal little about the Hebrews’ cosmological understanding.
“Earth” sometimes refers to the soil or ground that a farmer works (cf. 2 Kgs 5:17). According to the Bible the original condition of the earth (Gn 2:6) was affected by the curse of human sinfulness (Gn 3:17–19); modern ecologists seem to agree that the earth suffers because of human greed and arrogance. After Abel’s blood was spilled on the ground, Cain’s difficulty in making the soil produce for him was a constant reminder that he had murdered his brother (Gn 4:8–12).
The Israelites, who lived as tenants on God’s land (2 Sm 20:19), were instructed to let the land be at rest every seventh year (Ex 23:10–12; Lv 25:4, 5), allowing the soil to replenish nutrients used up by crops. After seven such “sabbath years,” in the 50th “jubilee year” the land reverted back to original family holdings (Lv 25:10–17). That provision not only reminded the people of God’s ultimate ownership but kept potential “land barons” from amassing huge estates.
The Mosaic law instructed the Israelites that the land’s condition would be a spiritual barometer of their relationship with God. Drought or lack of productivity was a sign that the relationship had been broken (Lv 26; Dt 28). Israel was warned that their wickedness could become so great that the Lord would evict them from his land (cf. Lv 26:37; Dt 28:64). Even if that happened, however, God would eventually restore his people so they could again be “wedded” to the land (Is 62:4).
In the NT the earth, or world, is said to lie in the power of the evil one (1 Jn 5:19), a reminder that many of the earth’s inhabitants are living outside of fellowship with God (cf. Eph 2:1, 2). Jesus emphasized the fundamental difference between “earthly” and “heavenly” things (Jn 3:1–12), a theme repeated by James (Jas 3:13–17) and Paul (Col 3:1–5). Earthly wisdom is natural and cannot comprehend the things of God (1 Cor 1:20, 21). A Christian’s earthly body, although a “temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor 6:19), is hardly to be compared with the future immortal body (1 Cor 15:40–44; 2 Cor 5:1–4).
Many passages point to a “coming age,” when the earth will be set free from its “bondage to decay,” a deliverance for which the whole creation is said to be “groaning” in anticipation (Rom 8:19–23). The Bible pictures a period of prodigious renewal of the earth’s fertility (Ez 47; Jl 3:18, 19; Am 9:13–15; Zec 14:6–9). One day, however, “[the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and its works will be exposed.]” (2 Pt 3:10). Yet in the apostle John’s apocalyptic vision, when “the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more,” he looked up and saw “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rv 21:1).
 The earth and its works will be exposed (εὑρεθήσεται heurethesetai), “will be discovered” is the original wording according to א B KP 424c 1175 1739txt 1852 syrph, hmg arm Origen. The earth and the works in it will be burned up (κατακαησεται katakaesetai) is attested to by A 048 049 056 0142 33 614 Byz Lect syrh copbo eth al. Another variant, the earth and the works in it will disappear, is supported by one witness, C. A third variant the earth and the works in it will be found destroyed (ευρεθησεται λυομενα heurethesetai luomena) supported by P72. Several other witnesses omit the verse, Ψ 1891 vgmss. The multiple variants are scribal attempts at clarifying a difficult passage.
Genesis 1:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 The earth was without form and empty; and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
The creative Word will turn chaotic matter into that which has structure and order. This ancient interpretation does not conflict with the biblical concept that God created the universe out of nothing. This would only be a stage in the great plan of God. Isaiah 45:18 states, “For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other.’ ” The first couple of days of creation will bring order to this matter, while the next several days will bring fertility and fullness.
Digging Deeper – Take Your Time
The “earth” is first described in its pristine state at the inception of creation before it is transformed into a suitable habitation for human life. Six creation “days” are described from the terrestrial perspective of a person observing the transformation. Also while ʾereṣ, “earth,” stands opposite “heavens” in v. 1, together referring to the universe, in v. 2 ʾereṣ suggests by double entendre the “land” of Israel’s habitation. The term ʾereṣ commonly means a territorial holding, designating “land.” The recurring motifs of “land” and “blessing” introduced in 1:1–2:3 are thematic fixtures in the patriarchal narratives and the entire Pentateuch. For Israel the land was God’s good gift that he prepared for his people to possess.65 Creation prepared God’s good “land/ earth,” which was for man to enjoy (1:10, 12, 31) and for Israel to possess.
Three parallel clauses in v. 2 describe the conditions of the earth at its beginning:
“Now the earth was formless and empty (tōhû wābōhû)”
“darkness was over the surface of the deep (tĕhôm)”
“the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (mayim)”
The rhyming couplet tōhû wābōhû (lit., “a wasteland and empty”) was shown earlier to be the foil by which God apportions his labor for the six days of creation. Three days are given to making the “uninhabitable” earth productive, and three days concern filling the “uninhabited” earth with life. There is no consensus about the precise meaning of the terms nor how the two words are to be understood when they occur in tandem. Some have taken the two terms as a hendiadys, meaning “formless waste,” while others treat them as a farrago, that is, two usually alliterative words that when taken together convey a different sense than when the two words appear independently. English equivalents such as “hodgepodge” and “mingled mass” have been suggested.66
Some have taken the phrase tōhû wābōhû as a negative emptiness, a dark abyss, like that of the Greek idea of primeval chaos (Hesiod,Theogony 116) or, alternatively, a disordered conglomerate, a kind of watery mass, which opposes creation.67 The LXX’s “unseen” and “unformed”68 may have influenced the now-common understanding “chaos,” an undifferentiated mass or vacuous nonentity.69 We will find that tōhû and bōhû describe a “wasteland” and “empty” land. Bōhû is found only in tōhû wābōhû, occurring in 1:2 and in Jer 4:23; also the two terms are in parallel at Isa 34:11. The etymology of the word remains a mystery, and we are left with the meaning of tōhû to clarify the sense of the couplet.
Although the etymology is also unclear for tōhû,70 it occurs sufficiently in the Old Testament (twenty times) to indicate its meaning. It refers to an unproductive, uninhabited land or has the sense of futility and nonexistence.71 It is found once more in the Pentateuch, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:10), where tōhû parallels “desert” (midbār), thus indicating a “desert-place.” The same word “hover” (rḥp) that occurs in Gen 1:2 is in the following verse of the Song (32:11), where God is likened to an eagle that “hovers” over its young.72 Since rḥp occurs in but one other place, there meaning “tremble,”73 Deut 32:10–11 is probably a deliberate echo of Gen 1:2. Moses’ Song is describing God’s care and provision for his people during their desert sojourn, where apart from God they could not have survived (32:10–14). Tōhû wābōhû has the same sense in Genesis 1, characterizing the earth as uninhabitable and inhospitable to human life. Despite the threatening desert, God protects and matures Israel during its troubled times. Similarly, although the earth, as it stood, could not support terrestrial life, it was no threat to God, whose “Spirit” exercised dominion over it. God’s purposes were not hindered by tōhû, for “he did not create it [earth] to be tōhû (i.e., desolate) but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18; cf. Job 26:7). Moreover, “hovering” (rḥp) has the nuance of motion. The movement of God’s “Spirit” indicates that the creative forces for change commence with God’s presence.74
We have mentioned that Jer 4:23 has the only occasion other than 1:2, where the couplet tōhû wābōhû occurs. Its context is the prophet’s description of Judah’s demise at the hands of God’s anger. Likewise, in Isa 34:11, where both terms appear (in parallel lines), the passage describes divine condemnation against Edom.75 Jeremiah 4:23–26 clearly reflects the creation language of Genesis 1, and the prophecy has been commonly understood as a metaphorical “reversal” of creation that leads to primordial “chaos.”76 Thus Jeremiah announced that Judah would be “uncreated” as a consequence of God’s judgment. Rather than a primordial “chaos,” however, Jeremiah used the similar imagery of creation so as to announce that the “land” (ʾereṣ) of Judah will become a “desolate” place as was the “earth” (ʾereṣ) before its creation, that is, a land lifeless without the blessing of God. This is explicated in the following oracle (Jer 4:27–29), where the “whole land (kol-hāʾāreṣ) will be ruined.” Similarly, Isa 34:11 describes “desolate” (tōhû) and “empty” (bōhû) Edom, which as a desert place becomes unfit for habitation and hence absent of life, except that of the desert fowl.77 Moreover, the prophets’ use of tōhû wābōhû does not require us to conclude that the earth in 1:2, as a first creation, is under God’s judgment. Rather, Jeremiah drew on creation imagery to announce that God would dismantle the nation. Just as God made the earth habitable and alive, God had established Judah in the land alive and prosperous. But now God in his wrath would reduce Judah to barrenness by the expulsion of its people as when the earth at its inception had no light, no people, and no birds in the skies.
“Darkness” and the “deep” prevailed over the landscape. Much is made of the metaphorical significance of darkness, meaning “evil” (e.g., Isa 5:20); its imagery in the Old Testament often represents whatever jeopardizes life, and it also pertains to the realm of the dead.78 Darkness, however, is treated as an actual entity in Genesis, not as a symbol for evil, and its existence is recognized by its naming (1:5). A common feature in ancient cosmogonies is that darkness preceded light, but in Hebrew tradition the darkness is not a primordial threat to God or a menacing evil, since God demonstrates his authority over it by naming it. Darkness is not necessarily negative since it is also associated with God (Ps 18:11 ), and it is the Lord who made it as a part of his “good” creation: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster” (Isa 45:7).79 In Isaiah, creation’s “light” and “darkness” are used metaphorically for “prosperity” and “disaster,” indicating that he is Master over the historical fortunes of Judah. He alone has appointed Cyrus, and thereby he shows he has no rival (Isa 45:1–6).
“Over the surface of the deep” parallels “over the waters,” which follows in the subsequent clause. The “deep” (tĕhôm) is best taken as part of the “earth” (ʾereṣ) and not as a distinctive entity.80 On the second and third days these waters are eventually separated from the expanse and land masses when the waters are named “seas” (vv. 6–10). “Deep” may indicate simply “depth” (Ps 71:20) or subterranean waters (Gen 7:11; 8:2) or seas often found in parallel with “water/waters” (yām/mayim).81 The “deep” (and “waters”) often is portrayed as a threat to life and to the people of God.82 Here, again, Genesis identifies the waters only for what they are, creations subject to the superintendence of God.
That the cosmos had its antecedents in primordial waters is known in Egyptian and Mesopotamian traditions as well. Babylonian Enuma Elish depicts the heavens and earth made from the carcass of the inert, watery Tiamat. The creator-god Atum in Egyptian cosmogony is on the primal hillock that emerges from the primordial sea. The earlier scholarly opinion that the biblical “deep” (tĕhôm) evidences a borrowing from Babylonian tradition where the primeval waters are personified as Tiamat has been shown wrong.83 The Babylonian and Hebrew terms for “deep/ocean” are related to a common Semitic word, and therefore the Hebrew is not a derivative of Tiamat linguistically.84 Furthermore, there is no place in the Old Testament where the “deep” is personified as it is with Tiamat in the Mesopotamian story. Also there is no justification for proposing a Canaanite influence in the telling of the Genesis account (see “Genesis 1–11 and Ancient Literature,” p. 86). The similarity between Genesis and mythological cosmogonies lies in the prominent place that the “deep” plays. Yet the differences between them are monumental. Whereas Tiamat is a deity that rivals the creator-god Marduk, in Genesis the “deep” is not a threatening force at all, merely physical waters.85 As for threatening waters, the Lord’s battle against the waters is an important motif in the Psalms and Prophets, but there is no “ ‘battle of creation’ in the true sense of the word.”86 In Genesis 1 there is no conflict motif as we find in the Baal-Yam or Baal-Mot myths. Among the later biblical writers, where the conflict theme is present, the raging waters pound their waves87 yet are only waters circumscribed by the omnipotent rule of the Lord (Pss 33:7; 93:1–5).
The proper context for understanding the “deep” for its religious significance is the historical experiences of the Mosaic community where it confronted the waters. Yahweh, who had created the waters, employs them to achieve his salvific ends for his people. In the poetic account of Israel’s deliverance, the Song of Moses declares that the “deep” drowned Pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea (Exod 15:5, 8; cf. Ps 106:9; Isa 63:13). Isaiah directly linked the language of the primordial “Rahab” with God’s deliverance of Israel by the drying up of the “great deep” (i.e., Red Sea, 51:9–10). In Genesis the “deep” of Noah’s day assists the Lord in destroying what God himself had made (7:11; 8:2). The “deep” stands not only in the way of Israel’s escape from Egypt (Exod 14:21–22) but also its entrance into Canaan (Josh 3:14–17); however, it too succumbs to its Creator. Later Ezek 26:19 echoes the primordial waters of v. 2 when the prophet announces Tyre’s destruction by God, who will make it desolate, a city without habitation overwhelmed by the “deep” (tĕhôm). Here the prophet ties it to the destructive forces of the waters (vv. 3–6), figurative for the nations, which will destroy this Mediterranean citadel of the Phoenician coast.
In Revelation the “new heavens and new earth” have no seawater (21:1), and the New Jerusalem experiences no night because of God’s presence (21:25). By appealing to the imagery of Gen 1:2, John indicates that the eternal, blessed state will be God’s completed new creation. He draws on the additional imagery of Isa 65:17 to show that the old earth and heaven have been supplanted by the new heavenly abode; the salvific work of God in the universe is declared complete.
Unlike the pagan stories, Israel knows of no chaos gods who trouble its Lord.88 The primordial gods of pagan myths are no more than natural phenomena. The “Spirit [rûaḥ] of God was hovering” over the earth, that is, presiding over the earth and preparing it for the creative word to follow. The “Spirit” alone is moving, animated, while the elements of the lifeless earth remain static, passive, awaiting their command.
Rûaḥ may mean either “spirit” or “wind” in this passage. Traditionally it has been rendered as “Spirit,” referring to the divine Spirit, but “wind” is a possible reading lexically and also fits the context of v. 2 (cf. 8:1).89 Since the earth is described by natural phenomena, such as seawater, and “wind” corresponds well with a physical description, it follows that “wind” may be in view. If taken as wind, ʾĕlōhîm may be rendered as a superlative, “terrible” or “mighty,”90 but this would leave the phrase without any religious significance. Though ʾĕlōhîm may occur as the superlative in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 23:6; Jonah 3:3), its recurring use in Genesis 1 (thirty-five times) as the divine name would argue for taking it here also as “God.”91 The question concerns whether rûaḥ is personal, that is, God’s Spirit, or an impersonal force working at God’s direction. Job 33:4 is not helpful since it appears to be an allusion to 2:7, but Ps 104:30 resonates with a personal interpretation (“your Spirit,” NIV).92 Although Ps 104:30 does not refer to v. 2 specifically, rather to the six days of creation inclusively, it suggests that the psalmist affirmed the personal participation of God’s Spirit in the transformation of the earth.
Yet the Mosaic community may have understood rûaḥ as having a double sense, “wind” as the prototype of the “Spirit” because of Israel’s experience at the Red Sea, where God sent a mighty “wind” to part the waters and deliver Israel from the Egyptians (Exod 14:21; 15:10; cp. Exod 10:19; Num 11:31). Hence, for them, their God of salvation was equally at work in creation, where the “wind” of God (1:2) enveloped the mighty waters of the earth as he prepared to transform them. Also in the flood account the “wind” (rûaḥ) at God’s direction blows across the “earth” (ʾereṣ) taming the floodwaters (8:1a), preparing for the return of the dry earth—creation anew. Whether it is understood as “wind” or “Spirit,” the Hebrews could well appreciate the theology: God was sovereignly superintending the condition of the earth and preparing the way for his creative word.
This divine superintendence may be likened to an eagle “hovering” (rāḥap) over the earth. The same term is used of an eagle that expands its winged flight to protect its young (Deut 32:11; cf. ʿûp, Isa 31:5).93 Earlier we commented on the similarity of 1:2 with the language in the Song of Moses, where the Lord is described as an “eagle” who is Israel’s Protector in the wastelands of the desert (Deut 32:11–14). “By the secret efficacy of the Spirit”94 the divine presence assures the abiding existence of the “earth,” despite its impotent position and static condition, ready for the movement of God, who would make it fertile, blooming with beauty and life.
The theological significance of this was not lost on the ancient reader who recognized its polemical undertones regarding pagan cosmogonies. The poets and prophets recognized the theological implications of God’s rule over the earth’s primordial elements (e.g., Ps 89:9–11; Isa 27:1; 51:9–10). Whereas the hero god in the cosmogonic myths is threatened, the God of the Hebrews had no battle to rage for control and ownership of creation. He is depicted as Creator and sole “Proprietor” (e.g., Ps 24:1; Isa 66:1).95 There is no reason to fear that deified forces, like escaped convicts, are racing around the universe playing havoc with nature and society. According to the biblical depiction of beginnings, the barren earth is made productive by the divine royal word which grants and insures productivity and life. This, theologically, speaks to any present or future threat to God’s kingdom; by faith his people affirm their trust in his irrevocable rule.96
Excursus: Translating 1:1–2
Martin Luther commented concerning 1:1, “The very simple meaning of what Moses says, therefore, is this: Everything that is, was created by God.”97 That it were only so “very simple”! If measured by the tangled web of scholarly debate, the meaning of the opening words of the Bible is anything but simple. The traditional opinion, reflected here by the Reformer, has an advantage over others by its straightforward, synchronic presentation; but we will discover that the matter is not plain. Both ancient and modern commentators disagree over the translation and sense of the very first word of the Bible, as well as almost every word of the opening two verses. One need go no further than a perusal of recent English versions to detect significant differences in the way the Bible’s inaugural words have been understood.
Verse 1. Since the issues are fundamentally syntactical, discussion must be primarily in those terms. Determining the preferred rendering of v. 1 rests with how the opening word “beginning” (bĕrēʾšît) is understood in relation to the remainder of the verse. (1) One understanding results in an independent clause, as in the traditional translation: “In the beginning God created …” (AV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, REB, NJB). (2) The other view of bĕrēʾšît makes v. 1 a temporal clause: “In the beginning when God created …,” and the thought is completed in v. 2 or v. 3. The NRSV has v. 2 as the principal clause98:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, [v. 1]
the earth was a formless void and darkness
covered the face of the deep, while a wind from
God swept over the face of the waters [v. 2].
“When God began to create the heaven and the earth—
the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind
from God sweeping over the water—
God said, “Let there be light.”
Both alternatives to the traditional translation give a relative beginning to creation, permitting the possibility of preexisting matter, though not necessarily so, as we will see below. Support for reading v. 1 as temporal is found in the syntax of the clause,99 the parallel language at 2:4b and 5:1b which commence with “when,”100 and the similarity to the cosmogonic myths Atrahasis and Enuma Elish, which begin with a temporal clause.101 Enuma Elish begins as follows:
(1) When the heavens above had not been named,
(2) Firm ground below had not been called by name,
(3) Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
(4) (And) Mammu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
(5) Their waters commingling as a single body;
(6) No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared,
(7) When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
(8) Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined—
(9) Then it was that the gods were formed within them.
Although the temporal rendering is syntactically possible, the arguments for its preference are not compelling; and the traditional rendering of a complete, independent sentence remains convincing. The traditional translation is syntactically defensible, and 2:4b and 5:1b as well as the Babylonian examples are not in fact the same as 1:1–3. Also the traditional reading has support from the ancient versions.102 This cannot be taken as conclusive by itself since the versions may have misinterpreted the Hebrew, but it is evidence of an early interpretation of the verse. The syntactical arguments for taking v. 1 as an independent sentence are equally forceful,103 which means that we cannot rely on the syntactical argument alone. In both 2:4b and 5:1b the temporal clause is explicitly marked by the Hebrew construction “in the day” (bĕyôm), which is absent in 1:1.104 The older opinion that the opening temporal clause of the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, corresponds to vv. 1–3 has now been revised.105 Its beginning is closer to 2:4b–7 and next 1:2–3, though even there not precisely. Genesis 1:1 has no exact syntactical parallel among pagan cosmogonies.
Although we cannot rest our decision on a prior theological persuasion, it is proper to consider the tenor of the passage. Regardless of how one reads 1:1–3, there is no room in our author’s cosmology for co-eternal matter with God when we consider the theology of the creation account in its totality. That ancient cosmogonies characteristically attributed the origins of the creator-god to some preexisting matter (usually primeval waters) makes the absence of such description in Genesis distinctive. Verse 1 declares that God exists outside time and space; all that exists is dependent on his independent will. We conclude that v. 1 is best taken as an absolute statement of God’s creation.
Verse 2. The question remains about how we are to understand the relationship of v. 1, as a completed sentence, to what follows in vv. 2–3. Three interpretations require our attention here: the “restitution” theory, the “title” view, and the traditional opinion.
Known popularly as the “gap” theory, the proponents of the “restitution” theory contend that v. 1 recounts an absolute beginning and describes a completed, pristine creation.106 It differs from the traditional interpretation by understanding vv. 3–31 as describing a renewal of creation, that is, a restitution of the initial creation that became “chaos” as a consequence of a judgment of God described in v. 2. In effect, then, chap. 1 describes two creations. The verb in v. 2 is rendered “and then the earth became formless and empty” (italics added). Earth’s elements in v. 2 are not neutral but negative, prohibiting life. Support for this is said to come from the description of the earth as chaos (tōhû wābōhû) in the Prophets, which entails the aftermath of divine judgment (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23–26).107 The judgment experienced by the universe is often attributed to Satan’s rebellion and expulsion from heaven (Isa 14:9–14; Ezek 28:12–15). Thus there is an indeterminable time “gap” between vv. 1 and 2. Verses 3–31 portray the gracious intervention of God, who saves a remnant of the chaotic order.
The major obstacle to this viewpoint is the syntactical construction of v. 2, which does not introduce consecutive action but rather a disjunctive clause, distinguishing v. 2 as circumstantial.108 While under different syntactical conditions the translation “became” is possible (e.g., Gen 3:20), it is unlikely in 1:2.109 Moreover, there is no logical or philological necessity for interpreting the conditions of the earth described in v. 2 as the consequence of God’s judgment (see 1:2 discussion).
We find that the crux in deciding between the remaining “title” and traditional views lies with how the phrase “heavens and the earth” is understood and with what weight is given to the phrase “in the beginning.” The meaning of “created” (bārāʾ), whether or not a technical term for creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is not as decisive as has been commonly thought.
In the title view v. 1 is the summary heading of the whole account, announcing the subject matter, and 1:2–2:3 presents the details.110 As a literary heading v. 1 stands outside the six-day scheme of creation. It tells generally of God’s role as Creator and the object of his creation, namely, the well-formed and filled universe as we know it. Verse 2 details the state of the “earth” when the divine command “Let there be light” was first uttered (v. 3), but the chaotic elements of the precreated earth were under the superintendence of God’s Spirit, who prepared the earth for the creative word. Verse 2 presents three circumstantial clauses that describe the “earth” at the time God first spoke “Let there be light” (v. 3).111
The most formidable argument for interpreting v. 1 as a summary is the phrase “the heavens and the earth,” which uniformly means in Scripture the universe as a completed organization—the cosmos as we know it.112 Verse 2 describes the earth in a negative state, a chaos of elements, which is opposed to creation (cf. Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23); therefore the well-ordered universe of v. 1 and the negative elements of the earth cannot have existed contemporaneously. If “heavens and earth” declares the existence of the well-ordered cosmos, how can it also be that the “earth” is disorganized and incomplete as portrayed in v. 2? Also “created” (bārāʾ) always designates a completed product; thus “created” in v. 1 summarizes the whole process described in vv. 3–31. Moreover, it does not mean creatio ex nihilo by itself; therefore the prologue’s summary statement that God “created” the cosmos does not preclude that God used precreated matter (v. 2) in shaping the preexisting earth (vv. 3–31). Further, Scripture consistently attributes creation to the divine word (Ps 33:6, 9; Heb 11:3), but no such divine command—“and God said”—introduces the description of the “earth” in v. 2. Finally, this arrangement of 1:1–3 has support from the parallel patterns in 2:4–7 and 3:1.113
Opponents to the title view commonly raise the question about the origins of the “darkness” and the watery chaos of the “earth” in v. 2. Some charge that the title view contradicts the traditional affirmation creatio ex nihilo, but this is not necessarily the case. The title view says the creation account proper starts with the existence of the “earth” in its uninhabitable state (v. 2) and that the narrative is silent about its origins. Earth’s chaotic state is viewed as a “mystery.”114 As is the case with so much of the early chapters, Genesis does not speak on all matters pertaining to the subject. It is an unnecessary leap to conclude that the elements in v. 2 are autonomous, co-eternal with God and upon which he was in some way dependent for creation.115 If anything, v. 2 shows that the “Spirit of God” reigns over the earth’s components and it is they that are dependent upon God.116 The idea of creatio ex nihilo is a proper theological inference derived from the whole fabric of the chapter.117
Although the title interpretation is defensible, more favorable is the traditional interpretation.118 The title view fails to give sufficient weight to the initial word of the account, “In the beginning.” This brief description of the setting for creation in Genesis 1 appears to be absolute with respect to the heavens and the earth.119 Since the “earth” commands the attention of the whole report in vv. 3–31, are we to believe that the account gives no word on the origins of its focal topic when it is the very subject of origins that drives the narrative? The opening two Hebrew words brʾšyt brʾ (“in the beginning [he] created”) have the same consonants and highlight the significance of “beginning” for understanding the passage. As a theological conception the startling absence of precreated matter distinguishes Israelite cosmogony from its rivals in the pagan Near East. The absolute sense of “beginning,” the very first word of the Bible, awakens the reader to the exceptional Creator-God of Israel’s faith.
Moreover, the simpler sentence structure proposed by the traditional view is consistent with what is found in 1:1–2:3.120 Also the narrative describes a progression in creation. The creation of an incomplete “earth” in vv. 1–2 fits appropriately with the subsequent telling in days 1–6 where incomplete stages, such as the division of the waters, are apparent. The traditional view also has the advantage of being the oldest known since it is reflected in the LXX.
The primary obstacle to the traditional view is the phrase “the heavens and the earth” (v. 1). Again, this expression is taken as a merism, referring to the entire created order as a finished product, thus, “In the beginning God created the cosmos” (Wis 11:7). Although the phrase “heavens and earth” surely points to a finished universe where it is found elsewhere in the Old Testament, we cannot disregard the fundamental difference between those passages and the context presented in Genesis 1 before us, namely, that the expression may be used uniquely here since it concerns the exceptional event of creation itself. To insist on its meaning as a finished universe is to enslave the expression to its uses elsewhere and ignore the contextual requirements of Genesis 1. “Heavens and earth” here indicates the totality of the universe, not foremostly an organized, completed universe.121 The term “earth” (ʾereṣ) in v. 1 used in concert with “heaven,” thereby indicating the whole universe, distinguishes its meaning from “earth” (ʾereṣ) in v. 2, where it has its typical sense of terrestrial earth.122 This recommends that the phrase “the heavens and the earth” differs from its common meaning found elsewhere.
Moreover, proponents of the title view contend that v. 2 describes a chaotic earth whose elements oppose creation and are not harmonious with God’s good creation (cf. Isa 45:18; Rev 21:1, 25).123 But this expects more of the passage than it says.124 The description of the “earth” is best seen as neutral, if not positive; for elsewhere we learn that God is the Creator of “darkness” (Isa 45:7), and we recognize also that darkness (“evening”) was a part of the created order the Lord named and deemed “good.” As we showed at v. 2, the distinctive couplet tōhû wābōhû (“formless and empty”) portrays an earth that is a sterile wasteland awaiting the creative word of God to make it habitable for human life. This is the point of the prophet’s appeal to creation; “he did not create it [the land] to be empty [tōhû]” (Isa 45:18).125 In his oracle Isaiah anticipated that the uninhabited Israel will once again know the return of the exilic captives, and, spiritually, the Gentiles who submit to the God of Israel will join Israel in its salvation (Isa 45:14–25). The passage speaks to the purposes of God, who as Creator will achieve his salvific ends for all peoples.126 This is borne out by the term parallel to tōhû in v. 18, which shows purpose, “but formed it [the land] to be inhabited.” Thus the prophet asserted that the Lord did not create the earth to remain tōhû but rather to become a residence for man. Finally, the three parallel clauses in v. 2’s description of the “earth” include the “Spirit of God,” who prepares the earth for the creative commands to follow. This suggests that the earth’s elements are not portraying a negative picture but rather a neutral, sterile landscape created by God and subject to his protection.
By way of summary, then, vv. 1–2 describe the absolute beginnings, the initial stage in the creation of the “earth” that is brought to completion during the six days (vv. 3–31), climaxing in the consecration of the seventh day (2:1–3). Earth’s beginning, we may surmise from the implications of the passage, was created ex nihilo. Since v. 1 clearly indicates that God created everything that we know as the universe, the “earth” (v. 2) had its origins ultimately in God.127 Moreover, in the creation account the elements of v. 2 are not a hindrance or aid to God’s creation of other elements ex nihilo, such as “light” (v. 3), the “expanse” (v. 6), and the celestial “lights” (v. 14).128 The notion of creatio ex nihilo furthermore is reasonably derived from the passage when we consider the polemical undertones of chap. 1, which distances Israel’s view of cosmogony from the ancient opinion that there once existed primordial forces that were the source of the creator-god. In biblical religion God has no antecedents, no companions, and no antagonists. As in the case with the subsequent creative events (vv. 3–31), the origin of the “earth” in vv. 1–2 can be attributed to divine fiat that is best reckoned with the first day.129
- Edward D Andrews, BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: How to Approach Difficulties In the Bible, Christian Publishing House. 2020.
- Edward D. Andrews, INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Christian Publishing House, 2016.
- Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982).
- Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., “Appearance,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988).
- Hermann J. Austel, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).
- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).
- John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
- Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
- Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Kindle Edition.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Chronology, Old Testament,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).
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65 E.g., reference to the “land” of Canaan as “good” (cf. Exod 3:8; Num 14:7; Deut 1:25, 35; 3:25; 4:21–22; 8:7, 10; 9:6; 11:17; “good cities,” 6:10) and “possession” of the “good” land (Deut 6:18; cf. also Gen 12:1; 15:7; 24:7; 28:13–14; 35:12; Deut 1:21; 3:20).
66 For the former see J. Sasson, “Time … to Begin,”Sha`arei Talmon: Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 188, and the latter, W. P. Brown, Structure, Role, and Ideology in the Hebrew and Greek Texts of Genesis 1:1–2:3, SBLDS 132 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 75.
67 E.g., an “amorphous watery mass in which the elements of the future land and sea were commingled” (J. Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, ICC [2d ed.; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1910], 17).
68 ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος.
69 As noted by Sailhamer, “Genesis,” 27.
70 Some attempts have been made to relate it to Egyptian, but more likely is the connection of Ugaritic thw, meaning “desert.” The combination תֹּהוּ וָבֹהוּ has been associated with Ugaritic tu-a-bi-[ú], “to be unproductive,” suggesting thereby an unproductive earth (see Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, 23–30).
71 For the meaning “desert” see Deut 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24=Ps 107:40; Isa 24:10; 34:11; 45:18–19; for “an empty place” see Job 26:7. It occurs in Isaiah, where the nations, their gods, and the idols’ craftsmen are declared futile (Isa 29:21; 40:17, 23; 41:29; 44:9; cf. also 1 Sam 12:21 [2×]).
72 The sense of “hover” appears for the verb in Ugaritic literature. C. H. Gordon (UT, 484) renders it “soar” (1 Aqht 32; 3 Aqht 20, 21, 31).
73 This is in Jer 23:9, where it is qal. The other two uses are piel.
74 “Hitherto all is static, lifeless, immobile. Motion, which is the essential element in change, originates with God’s dynamic presence” (Sarna, Genesis, 7).
75 Similarly, תֹּהוּ is used figuratively in the context of God’s judgment against the “city,” symbolic for Babylon (Isa 24:10).
76 E.g., W. McKane, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986), 106. Tsumura (The Earth and the Waters, 36–40) argues otherwise. In our opinion the correlation between Gen 1 and Jer 4, whether or not they are type-antitype, does not necessitate that the idea of chaos is meant in Gen 1:2. The point is that Judah will experience exile, which means an expulsion from the land, leaving the land subject to the wild and thus as lifeless and unproductive as it was before God blessed Israel in the land. Here it corresponds to the lifeless “earth” at creation (1:2).
77 Cp. EV(s): “the measuring line of chaos” (NIV, REB) and “the plummet of chaos” (NRSV).
78 E.g., Job 3:4–8; 10:21; 17:13; 1 Sam 2:9.
79 The same language of 1:1–2, בָּרָא (“create”) and חשֶׁךְ (“darkness”), occurs here.
80 Tsumura suggests that אֶרֶץ and תְּהוֹם are a hyponymous word pair, in which the “deep” is a part of that referred to as the “earth” in v. 2 (The Earth and the Waters, 67–74).
81 E.g., Pss 33:7; 104:6; Job 28:14; 38:16, 30; Jonah 2:5 ; Hab 3:10; it is substituted for “waters” at Ps 78:15 (cf. v. 20), which gives a poetic recounting of the incident at Meribah (Exod 17:6).
82 E.g., Gen 7:11; 8:2; Exod 15:8; Amos 7:4, Jonah 2:5 , Ps 107:26. It is also used of blessing, e.g., Gen 49:25; Deut 8:7; 33:13; Ps 78:15.
83 See, e.g., Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 104–5.
84 See Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters, 45–52.
85 The poet invokes the waters to join in praising God (Ps 148:7; cf. Ps 77:17; Hab 3:10).
86 C. Kloos, Yhwh’s Combat with the Sea: A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 87. It is commonplace for scholars to attribute to Israel’s poetic waters and the sea-monsters Leviathan and Rahab a Canaanite mythological background whose theology was later disregarded in Yahwistic orthodoxy. But even those who hold to this for Israel’s poets deny that there ever was a cosmogonic battle myth in Israel. See Kloos, pp. 66–86, who also notes A. S. Kapelrud, “Baʿal, Schöpfung und Chaos,” UF 11 (1979): 407–12.
87 Pss 65:7 ; 74:12–17; 77:11–20 [12–21]; 89:9–10 [10–11]; 93:3–4; 104:6–7; Isa 27:1; 51:9–10.
88 F. M. Cross observes that creation myths include both theogonies, in which creation is achieved through sexual procreation among primal forces, and cosmogonies, where the theogonic gods (“olden gods”) are defeated in warfare by young deities who afterward establish a created order and the institution of kingship (“The ‘Olden Gods’ in Ancient Near Eastern Creation Myth,” in Magnalia Dei, The Mighty Acts of God: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Memory of G. Ernest Wright [Garden City: Doubleday, 1976], 329–38). Cross sees theogonic imagery in Gen 1:1–2 but rightly observes that in Genesis creation has “no element of cosmogonic conflict, no linkage to a cosmogony. God creates by fiat” (p. 335). Yet it prepares the way for the introduction of the Divine Warrior (Yahweh) who achieves for Israel its birth and salvation.
89 E.g., Tg. Onq., Tg. Ps.-J.; NRSV, “A wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (also NJB, NJPS).
90 E.g., “mighty wind,” NAB. The parallel expressions with עַל־פְּנֵי (“over”) in vv. 2b and 2c suggest that רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים can be taken as a natural element as “darkness was over the face of the deep,” so the “wind of God was hovering over the waters.” However, the presence of the participle מְרַחֶפֶת (“was hovering”) with רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים at v. 2c would argue against a purely natural understanding. See Brown, Structure, Role, and Ideology, 75.
91 For superlative use see IBHS § 14.5b. D. W. Thomas contends that when אֱלֹהִים is used as a superlative in the OT, it always refers to someone or something that is brought into a relationship with God, and there is no unambiguous example in which the name is solely an “intensifying epithet” (“A Consideration of Some Unusual Ways of Expressing the Superlative in Hebrew,” VT 3 : 209–24, esp. 215–19).
92 The NIV at Ps 33:6 rightly renders “breath.”
93 Here it is piel; in the qal stem, רָחַף has the meaning “shake” or “vibrate” at Jer 23:9.
94 Calvin, Comm., 74.
95 Barth’s term, God with Us, 18.
96 Cf. von Rad, Genesis, 51.
97 LW 1.7.
AV Authorized Version
NASB New American Standard Bible
REB Revised English Bible
NJB New Jerusalem Bible
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
98 Contra RSV. The NEB also has v. 2 as the main clause, but the revision (REB) reads v. 1 as a principal statement. Early advocates of the temporal clause were the medieval Jewish commentators, Rashi (d. 1105) and Ibn Ezra (d. 1167). While Rashi took v. 3 as the main clause, Ibn Ezra differed by assigning it to v. 2. Of these Rashi’s opinion, taking v. 2 as parenthetical, has had the greater following. The advantage of Ibn Ezra’s rendering (as NRSV) is its simplicity of sequence, but the overwhelming difficulty is v. 2’s beginning construction, which would be unlikely. Verse 2 has the order wāw + noun + verb: וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה. The expected syntax for the principal clause is wāw + verb + subject: וַתְּהִי הָאָרֶץ.
NJPS New Jewish Publication Society Version
NAB New American Bible
99 The absence of the definite article in בְּרֵאשִׁית (lit., “in beginning”) recommends that the word has a construct relationship (dependent) with בָּרָא (“created”). “Beginning” (רֵאשִׁית) usually designates the head of a series and thus points to a relative beginning. Of the fifty-one occurrences of the noun רֵאשִׁית, it is said always to be in the construct. See P. Humbert, “Troise notes sur Genesis 1,” in Interpretationes ad Vetus Testamentum pertinentes S. Mowinckel septuagenario missae, NTT 56 (Oslo: Forlaget land og Kirche, 1955), 85–96, cited in Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 95–98. The all-important exception to Humbert’s analysis is Isa 46:10 (see below).
100 Gen 2:4b–7 has the same pattern as 1:1–3 when 1:1 is understood as temporal:
“In the beginning when …”
“When the Lord God made …”
“the earth was formless and empty …”
“and no shrub of the field had yet appeared …”
“then God said …”
“then the Lord God formed …”
101 See E. A. Speiser, Genesis: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), 12. Brown analyzes it differently: lines 1–2 and 7–8 are temporal, lines 3–6 are parenthetical, and line 9 is the main clause (Structure, Role, and Ideology, 67–68).
102 John 1:1 relies on the LXX, ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.
103 Some Greek transliterations and the Samaritan transliteration have the word vocalized with the definite article, indicating that at least some authorities read it as absolute (e.g., βαρησηθ and βαρησειθ; also some MSS of Aquila have the added article—ἐν τῳ κεφαλαίῳ; see J. W. Wevers, ed., Genesis. Septuaginta [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974]). Samaritan reads bārāšît (see BHS). Again, while רֵאשִׁית (“beginning”) commonly heads a temporal clause, the possibility of רֵאשִׁית indicating an absolute beginning is shown by Isa 46:10: מַגִּיד מֵרֵאשִׁית אַחֲרִית, which the NRSV renders “declaring the end from the beginning”; for רֵאשִׁית (“beginning”) with its opposite אַחֲרִית (“end”), see Job 8:7; 42:12; Eccl 7:8. See W. Eichrodt (“In the Beginning: A Contribution to the Interpretation of the First Word of the Bible,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962], 1–10), who shows that the context of Isa 46:10 requires an absolute meaning for מֵרֵאשִׁית (contra Humbert). Some argue that the massoretic disjunctive accent ṭipḥāʾ with בְּרֵאשִׁי֭ת indicates that the massoretes read the phrase as independent (e.g., G. Hasel, “Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look,” BT 22 : 159). However, the ṭipḥāʾ is not decisive in determining the massoretic opinion since it can be shown that a disjunctive accent occurs with בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית when the (construct) dependent relationship is certain (e.g., Jer 26:1; see, e.g., Brown, Structure, Role, and Ideology, 65; esp. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” 22–23).
104 Gen 2:4b (בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת) and 5:1b (בְּיוֹם בְּרֹא) have the infinitive form of the verb, as opposed to the perfective form בָּרָא (“created”) found in 1:1. At 1:1 we would expect the infinitive בְּרֹא to head a temporal clause as it does in 5:1b, though this too is not conclusive since the perfective verb is attested in such a dependent clause (e.g., Lev 14:46; Isa 29:1; Hos 1:2). V. Hamilton argues that the striking dissimilarity between the constructions at 1:1 and 2:4b/5:1b, if anything, should alert the reader to understand the syntax of 1:1 differently, not similarly (The Book of Genesis Chapters 1–17, NICOT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 107).
105 See Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 96–97.
106 G. H. Pember’s Earth’s Earliest Ages (1876) was one of the most influential works advocating this view. The “restitution” view has been popularized in this century by the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). See the defense by A. C. Custance, Without Form and Void (Brockville, Canada: Custance, 1970). For critique of this view see W. W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory of Genesis 1:1, 2 (Winona Lake, Ind.: Light & Life, 1973), and Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3. Part II,” BSac 132 (1975): 136–44.
107 Cf. also Isa 24:1; 45:18.
108 The word order is typically wāw disjunctive + nonverb (וְהָאָרֶץ) followed by the perfect form of the verb (הָיְתָה); thus, as the NIV, “Now the earth was …” (IBHS § 8.3b; 39.2.3).
109 For sequential action וַתְּהִי הָאָרֶץ (wāw consecutive + verb) is customary.
110 Among commentators who hold this view are H. Gunkel, S. R. Driver, Cassuto, von Rad, Westermann, and Hamilton. Also see the defense by Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3. Part III,” 216–28.
111 Some who hold this interpretation propose that v. 1 was a late scribal addition, but it is not a necessary consequence of this view. Verse 1 is best attributed to the original creation source, serving as a theological proclamation that the universe and all that is in it owes its origins to the will of an autonomous Creator.
112 E.g., Gen 2:1, 4; 14:19, 22; Pss 8:6 ; 121:2. For the following arguments see Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3. Part III,” 216–28.
113 Summary Heading
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth …”
(this functions also as the summary heading for 3:1)
Circumstantial Description (wāw disjunctive + noun + verb)
“Now the earth was without form and void …”
“Now no shrub of the field had yet appeared …”
“Now the serpent was more crafty …”
Main Clause (wāw consecutive + verb)
“Then God said …”
“Then the Lord God formed man …”
“Then he said …”
114 “But what about the uncreated or unformed state, the darkness and the deep of Genesis 1:2? Here a great mystery is encountered, for the Bible never says that God brought these into existence by his word.… The biblicist faces a dilemma when considering the origins of those things which are contrary to God. A good God characterized by light could not, in consistency with His nature, create evil, disorder, and darkness. On the other hand, it cannot be eternally outside of Him for that would limit His sovereignty. The Bible resolves the problem not by explaining its origin but by assuring man that it was under the dominion of the Spirit of God” (Waltke, “The Creation Account of Gen 1:1–3. Part IV,” 338–39).
115 “Darkness” and watery chaos came from God as Creator, not from co-eternal matter, e.g., Isa 44:24; Jer 10:11–13; Ps 90:2; Col 1:17 (so Waltke, “The Literary Genre of Genesis, Chapter One,” 4).
116 “The first two verses simply do not reveal whether God created the list of ‘elements’ in 1:2, and they certainly do not claim a malevolent, autonomous chaos. Furthermore, a circumstantial beginning to cosmogony need not imply a contingent deity” (Brown, Structure, Role, and Ideology, 72).
117 Elsewhere the Scriptures suggest creatio ex nihilo (e.g., Prov 8:22–26; John 1:1–3; Heb 11:3). The first explicit statement (early first century b.c.) of creatio ex nihilo is 2 Macc 7:28: “I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed” (NRSV). Contrast the Hellenistic Jewish work Wis 11:17 from the same period: “For your all-powerful hand which created the world out of formless matter …” (NRSV).
118 Among commentators who hold to the traditional view are the Reformers Luther and Calvin, C. F. Keil, F. Delitzsch, G. C. Aalders, H. Leupold, D. Kidner, and more recently Wenham and Sarna. For a defense of the traditional view see especially Hasel, “Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1,” and M. F. Rooker, “Genesis 1:1–3: Creation or Re-Creation?” BSac 149 (1992): 316–23 (Part 1) and 411–27 (Part 2).
119 So Hasel (“Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1,” 165): “It rather appears that the author of Gen. 1 wanted to convey more than to give in vs. 1 merely an introductory summary which expresses as Westermann and others hold that ‘God is creator of heaven and earth.’ If the writer of Gen. 1 had wanted to say merely this he would certainly not have needed to begin his sentence with berēʾšît.”
120 The complex construction at 2:4–7 does not stand up as an exact parallel since 2:4 with its infinitival construction differs from 1:1. Hasel argues that 1:2 and 2:5 do not correspond as Westermann (and others) contend; 2:4 has the “not yet” formula, expressed negatively, while 1:2 states the condition of the earth positively (“Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1,” 165). He does not include comment on 3:1, which also is stated positively.
121 So Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.
122 Some contend that the title view itself suffers from an inconsistency by proposing that God created the “earth” in v. 1 yet it already existed according to its understanding of v. 2. This misunderstands the title view, which sees no cause-effect relationship between vv. 1–2. For the proponents of the title view, they would argue indeed that the “earth” in vv. 1–2 have different meanings and are not synchronic—the former defined by the merism and the latter the preexistent chaos.
123 E.g., Westermann comments on “darkness” in v. 2: “The sentence is not describing anything objective but presenting an aspect of the situation which is the opposite of creation. Darkness is not to be understood as a phenomenon of nature but rather as something sinister” (Genesis 1–11, 104). See also Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3. Part III,” 220–21. Hamilton, though adhering to the title view, rightly questions the cogency of this line of argument: “Although Gen. 1 states that God created light (v. 3), it does not say that he created darkness. May we assume from this that darkness, unlike light, is not a part of God’s creation, but is independent of it? Is day superior to night? Can we place spiritual meanings on physical phenomena?” (Genesis 1–17, 109).
124 See E. J. Young, “The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2,” WTJ 23 (1960–61): 151–78, esp. 157, 170, 171 n. 33; also Rooker, “Genesis 1:1–3 Part Two,” 420–22.
125 The NRSV renders it conventionally, “He did not create it a chaos,” whereas the NIV has translated its contextual sense of purpose “to be empty.”
126 “Isaiah does not deny that the earth was once a tohu; his point is that the Lord did not create the earth to be a tohu, for an earth of tohu is one that cannot be inhabited, and has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was created” (Young, The Book of Isaiah, 3 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 3.211).
127 Thus Young can say, “There is no explicit statement of the creation of the primeval material from which the universe we know was formed” (p. 143), yet he can conclude “Verse two describes the earth as it came from the hands of the Creator and as it existed at the time when God commanded the light to shine forth” (“The Relationship of the First Verse of Genesis One to Verses Two and Three,” WTJ 21 : 146).
128 See Sasson, “Time … to Begin,” 189–90.
129 Cf. 2 Esdr 6:38: “I said, ‘O Lord, you spoke at the beginning of creation, and said on the first day, “Let heaven and earth be made,” and your word accomplished the work’ ” (NRSV). Also b. Ḥag. 12a, “Ten things were created on the first day …” (i.e., elements of 1:1–3).
 K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 130–144.