Genesis 1:1-2 The Translation and Meaning of the Opening words of Genesis Is Not So Simple

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Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”—Genesis 1:1, ASV, ESV, LEB, CSB, NASB, UASV.

Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”—Genesis 1:1, KJV.

“In the beginning God created …” (AV, ASV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, REB, NJB, UASV).

“In the beginning when God created …,” (GNT, NABRE, NRSV).

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Genesis 1:1 Meaning

From the first verse of the Bible we gain two significant certainties. First, the “heavens and the earth,” is a reference in the Bible to the material universe, which had a beginning. Second, the “heavens and the earth” were created by God.

Regardless of what some claim, there is no indication from Genesis on how long ago the beginning of the creation of the universe began. In addition, we only get a general outline of how God created the heavens and the earth, not explicitly how in detail.

רֵאשִׁית head-part, beginning, of a thing, in point of time (Gen. 10:10), or value (Prov. 1:7). Its opposite is אַֽחֲרִית (Isa. 46:10).

בְּרֵאשִׁית in the beginning, is always used in reference to time. Here only is it taken absolutely. It is a point of time which is the beginning (non prior) in a duration (Ge 1:1)

The word Hebrew word (בָּרָא) “created” create, give being to something new. Make something that has not been in existence before (Ge 1:1) It has God always for its subject. Regarding this word, the HCSB Study Bible states: “In its active form the Hebrew verb bara’, meaning ‘to create,’ never has a human subject. Thus bara’ signifies a work that is uniquely God’s.”— Page 7.

When applying (אֱלֹהִים) Elohim to Jehovah, it is used as a plural of majesty, dignity, or excellence. (Gen. 1:1)

Genesis 1:1 introduces the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2.

The earth was established in orbit around the sun and was a globe covered with water before the six “days,” or periods, of creation began. Verse 2 is more introductory material letting humans know “the earth was without form and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”

Genesis 1:3 to 2:4 begins the creative days that give us more details than in the snippet overview of Genesis 1:1-2. Even so, Genesis 1:3-2:4 is only a brief description of the steps that God took in creating the earth and all living things on it, which included the first man and woman.

Genesis 2:5-25 begins again on the third creation day (period) to give us more details and now give us deeper insights into his creation of man and woman. This is why you see the Hebrew Elohim in Genesis chapter one, a word that conveys might and power, and in Genesis Chapter 2, when the creation of man is detailed, you see the personal name of Jehovah.


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].

The NJPS shows the alternative (see also NAB), where v. 2 is parenthetical and v. 3 is the main clause of the sentence (vv. 1–3):

“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 [1]

EXCURSION by Paul J. Kissling

On the Translation of Genesis 1:1–3




NRSV Footnote 1





In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

When God began to create the heavens and the earth,





Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

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.

the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.





And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Notice the following significant differences among these three translations.

  1. Both the NIV and NASB regard verse one as a complete sentence and punctuate with a period. Both the text and the first footnote in the NRSV regard verse one as the introduction to verse two and so punctuate with a comma.15
  2. Both the NRSV text and the first footnote in NRSV introduce the word “when” into verse one. This word is not found in the Hebrew text. The result of this translation is/may be to regard verse one as introducing the situation in which creation actually began in verse 3 and not to describe the initial act of creation. The earth is already in existence when God proceeds to create it.
  3. The NIV, NASB, and NRSV text and footnote 2 all imply that the creation took place “In the beginning”; the NRSV footnote 1 does not refer to the beginning at all, only the time when God began to create.
  4. The NIV and NASB use “Spirit of God” with a capital “S” to render the Hebrew phrase, rûa˓ĕlohîm. The NRSV footnote 1 suggests “spirit of God” with a lowercase “s.”
  5. The NRSV translates “a wind from God” for the same Hebrew phrase. This is because the Hebrew word רוּחַ (rûa) can mean “Spirit,” “spirit,” or “wind.”
  6. The verb used to describe what the Spirit or wind of God was doing is “hovering” in NIV, “moving” in NASB, and “swept over” in NRSV and NRSV footnote.
  7. NASB and NRSV in the text and in the footnotes begins verse 3 with the word “Then,” while the NIV has merely “And.” In Hebrew this is the first of the Bible’s waw-consecutives which in narrative texts ordinarily means “then.” In NIV and NASB God’s decision to create light follows in sequence after the creation of the heavens and the earth in verse 1. In NRSV text and footnotes, it follows logically from a description of the earth before God began to act on it in creation.

The Translation of Genesis 1:1

It may be surprising to learn that the translation of the first word of the Bible is a matter of considerable controversy. The Hebrew word בְּרֵאשִׁית (bə˒šîth), traditionally translated “In the beginning,” does not actually have the word “the” (the definite article) in it. In Hebrew this does not necessarily mean that it is wrong to translate it in the traditional way; anyone who has learned another language knows that no two languages use the definite and indefinite articles in precisely the same way. In addition, the noun ˒šîth (bə is the Hebrew preposition meaning “in a” or “in the”) is usually thought to be in the construct state, a special construction in Hebrew where the head noun is connected to the next noun by the word “of,” i.e., “In [the] beginning of God’s creating.” It is thus potentially possible to translate the first phrase of Genesis “When God began to create” or “In the beginning when God” (NRSV). While the issue cannot be resolved by grammatical arguments17 alone, a consideration of the grammatical details is the first step in considering the issue.

The Absence of the Article

The first word in the Hebrew Bible is actually a phrase with the noun ˒šîth (“beginning”) combined with the Hebrew inseparable preposition bə (meaning “in a” or “in the”). The Hebrew definite article is not present. A key question is, “Is bə˒šîth in the construct state because it does not have the Hebrew definite article?” One of the strongest arguments for this is the fact that, of the 50 uses of the word, only Isaiah 46:10 has ˒šîth in the simple, absolute state; the 49 other occurrences are in the construct state. The spelling is exactly the same for the absolute and construct of a noun like ˒šîth, therefore only context can decide the issue.


The Vowel Pointing on the Hebrew Verb bara˒

The Hebrew verb traditionally translated “created” in Genesis 1:1 is pointed as a Qal perfect third person masculine singular verb. Hebrew words are made up of consonants and markings placed above, under or beside the consonants called vowel points. The Hebrew text was for many centuries copied with the consonants only, without the vowel points. The vowels were supplied from memory and did not need to be written down. It was only about 500 A.D. that a group of Hebrew scribes known as the Masoretes began adding the vowel points because Hebrew was being lost as a living language and readers were beginning to forget the vowel pointing. By “repointing” (changing) the vowels a Hebrew word can mean something entirely different.

In order for the first phrase of Genesis to be translated “When God began to create …” the Hebrew word for “created” (bārā˒) has to be repointed (i.e., supplied with a new set of vowels) from a simple past tense verb (called a simple perfect in Hebrew), to an infinitive, bəro˒, meaning “to create.” While sometimes in attempting to reconstruct the meaning of an incomprehensible text scholars are forced to repoint a text, in this case the repointing is not necessary. The text makes sense as it stands, and the ancient translators also understood it in the traditional way.


The Genre of Genesis 1 as Anti-Idolatry Polemic

One problem with the translations of NRSV, whether main text or footnote 1, is that these translations, while grammatically possible, fail to consider adequately the anti-idolatry polemic throughout this text. NRSV’s translation (whether text or footnote 1) has Genesis 1, in common with polytheistic creation myths, begin with the presumption of primordial matter. The matter with which God works is already presumed to be present in these translations. But this is the very sort of notion which this chapter is critiquing. There is no initial chaos in Genesis 1. Everything, including matter, is under God’s complete control. It seems inconsistent to argue that Genesis 1 critiques the polytheistic myths while implicitly accepting one of the key features of those myths, eternal matter. While this argument is less strong for Israel on the verge of entering the promised land, there seems to me to be little doubt that the original canonical audience, most of which was still living among polytheistic cultures, would have accepted such a reading. It is amazing how much ideological baggage can be loaded onto the lack of a definite article in the first word of the Hebrew Bible.

The Wider Canonical Context

Certainly, when the entire Christian canon is taken into account, there seems to be little doubt that Christians are to read this text in the traditional way, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The “earth” which is described in verse 2 as “formless and void” is not a foe of God’s creation, but merely the incomplete state of the land in the initial stages of creation. The rest of Scripture makes it clear that this verse speaks of the initial creation of all things. The further revelation which these Scriptures provide leads to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, i.e., creation out of nothing.[2]

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

Genesis 1: A Commentary by James M. Rochford

Before the Seven Days of Creation (Gen. 1:1-2)

(1:1) “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

“In the beginning…” We disagree with the small minority of English translations that render this as, “When God began to create” (e.g. NEB, or margins of NRSV and CEV). This translation renders this as a dependent or temporal clause, rather than as an independent clause. This is a minority translation for several reasons:

For one, all of the ancient translations agree with the view that this refers to an absolute beginning.[3]

Second, Hebrew dependent clauses are usually not this long and cumbersome. If this is a dependent clause, then the sentence wouldn’t end until after verse 3. This is very much “unlike a true Hebrew sentence, especially an introductory sentence.”[4]

Third, the Hebrew grammar fits with this view. These first two verses do not contain wayyiqtol verbs, or what is called the waw-consecutive.[5] The waw-consecutive refers to perfect and imperfect Hebrew verbs which are preceded by the conjunction waw (pronounced “vav”). According to Hebrew grammarians, these are used primarily in “narrative sequences to denote consecutive actions, that is, actions occurring in sequence.”[6] However, in Genesis 1:1-2, we do not see sequence. Instead, God created the universe before space-time existed.

Fourth, the book of Genesis is a book about beginnings. But if this translation is correct, then the beginning of the book is not the beginning at all! Under this view, it has “clearly failed at the most crucial point if, in fact, the best it can say is that at the very start matter just happened to be around.”[7]

Fifth, the rest of the OT affirms God’s creation of the universe from nothing. Isaiah states that God is “the maker of all things” (Isa. 44:24), and Jeremiah writes that God is the “maker of all” (Jer. 10:16).

Sixth, the NT affirms God’s creation of the universe from nothing. Using the same language of Genesis 1, John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:1, 3). Also alluding to Genesis 1, the author to the Hebrews writes, “The worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).


Therefore, Genesis 1:1 clearly teaches a beginning of space-time—an absolute beginning of the universe. Genesis 1:1 is not a title. It refers to the creation of the universe.[8] It refers to “the beginning of time itself, not to a particular period within eternity”[9] and an “absolute beginning point in time.”[10] Most translators and commentators agree with this understanding.[11]

Why would some translations deviate from the clear meaning of the text? Boice and Young wonder if scholars are trying to conform Genesis to the Babylonian account—the Enuma Elish—which begins with the words, “When on high the heavens were not named, and below the earth had not a name…” Yet, this is a “prejudicial desire to have the Genesis account conform to it.”[12]

“Heavens and earth” (hashamayim we ha ‘erets) uses a literary device called a merism—a figure of speech that implies totality. For instance, we might say that we searched “high and low” or in every “nook and cranny.” Even though these expressions only mention isolated parts, they refer to everything in between—much like saying, “I love you from your head to your toes.”

The Hebrews had no word for “universe,” so this merism refers to the entirety of the universe. In every other usage of this expression in the OT (Gen. 2:1, 4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 65:17; Jer. 23:24), this “phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.”[13] Even in the Egyptian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic cultures, the phrases “heavens and earth” referred to the universe, and therefore, it could be translated, “In the beginning God created everything.”[14] This is why the prophet Joel equated the “sun, moon, and stars” with “the heavens and the earth” (Joel 3:15-16). Since the Hebrews only had a 3,000-word vocabulary,[15] they often needed to combine words to convey a novel meaning. In this case, the Hebrews had no word for universe; thus, they used this compound expression.

What can we conclude from this opening verse of the Bible?

God is the sole Creator of the universe. He is the main actor in creation, being mentioned 35 times in this opening section. In fact, he is mentioned “in as many verses of the story.”[16] This passage affirms that God is self-existent, self-sufficient, and eternal (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:1-2; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 21:6). From a devotional perspective, we need God at the beginning of our worldview! Lennox writes, “The foundation for every new beginning was that God should be in on it. We have proved him right. What would a beginning be without God? The universe itself couldn’t have started without him.”[17]

This passage denies atheism and naturalism. In the biblical worldview, we do not begin with “molecules in motion.” We begin the world with an infinite Mind—not mindless matter.

This passage denies any form of pantheism. God is not one and the same as creation. He existed before creation, and he is distinct from creation.

This passage denies any form of polytheism and idol worship. Later, the OT prophets and psalmists refuted idolatry by appealing to God as the Cosmic Creator. The psalmist states, “All the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5). Likewise, Jeremiah writes, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens” (Jer. 10:11). Even today, many scholars see that Moses wrote Genesis 1 as refutation or as “a polemic against idolatry.”[18]

This passage denies the teaching of Mormonism. The LDS church affirms an infinite regression of “gods” who created into eternity past, and will create into eternity future. This simply doesn’t fit the first verse of the Bible. The book of Genesis is a book of beginnings (e.g. universe, earth, life, humanity, Israel, etc.), but we read nothing about God having a beginning! As Isaiah writes, “Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me” (Isa. 43:10).

This passage denies the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They contend that God used Jesus (an angel, in their view) to create the universe. However, God didn’t create the universe with anyone’s help, but rather, he created “all alone” (Isa. 44:24).


(1:2) “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”

Moses doesn’t tell us how much time transpired between verse 1 and verse 2. The seven days of Genesis do not begin until verse 3. So, the age of the universe and the Earth remain an open question. At this point, Moses focuses on the Planet Earth, which is “formless and void.”

Is the “Spirit of God” the Holy Spirit or just a wind? The term “Spirit” (rûa) can also be translated as “wind.” For instance, after the Flood, God sends a “wind” (rûa) to dry the land. Yet, this doesn’t fit with the description here. For one, this is not just a “wind” by itself. It is the “Spirit of God.” Clearly, this description means more than just a mere wind.[19] Second, the “Spirit of God” is “hovering” (ESV, NIV) over the surface of the waters, which doesn’t describe a wind in motion.

Does “the deep” refer to the goddess Tiamat? Many critics of the Bible contend that the Hebrew word for “deep” (tehom) is similar to the Akkadian “Tiamat,” whom the Babylonian creation account mentions in the Enuma Elish. In the Enuma Elish, the god Marduk slays Tiamat and uses her corpse to create the heavens and the earth.

However, experts in Assyriology like Alexander Heidel see no connection.[20] Likewise, ancient Near Eastern historian K.A. Kitchen calls this a “complete fallacy.”[21] For one, he notes that the Hebrew noun is “unaugmented,” making it a common noun, while the Babylonian word is a “derived form,” making it a proper name. Second, the context of the Babylonian word implies a goddess, while the context for the Hebrew word implies a common noun. Third, the Ugaritic language also used the word (thm) to refer to the “deep,” even as early as the second millennium BC, and this has “no conceivable link with the Babylonian epic.”[22] Fourth, the text later states that God brought water from the “deep” (tehôm) to flood the Earth (Gen. 7:11), which surely doesn’t refer to a water goddess. Finally, we might add that the greater context of Genesis 1 shows no struggle between rival gods—unlike the ancient Near Eastern accounts.

Gap Theory Perspective: Older gap theorists held that the Hebrew in verse 2 can be translated in this way: “The earth became formless and void” (see NIV 1984 note). In their view, a large gap of time occurred between verse 1 and verse 2. How of a gap long? The text doesn’t say. But under this reading, the earth seems to have fallen into a state of disorder and destruction. The terms “formless and void” (tohu wabōhû) elsewhere refer to a destroyed and desolate state (Isa. 34:10-11; Jer. 4:23). Isaiah writes, “[The Lord] created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place but formed it to be inhabited)” (Isa. 45:18). God did not create the world formless. Thus, gap theorists argue that this could be commentary on how the Earth had become formless and void. Furthermore, the mention of “darkness” being over the surface of the Earth might imply divine judgment (Ex. 10:21; Isa. 45:7; 1 Sam. 2:9).

Other scholars do not hold to the gap theory, but they do acknowledge an indefinite amount of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. After all, the days of Genesis do not begin until verse 3 and following. OT expert C. John Collins notes that the term “created” (bara) is perfect—not infinitive, and the normal use of the perfect at the beginning of a section “is to denote an event that took place before the storyline gets under way.”[23] So, even if the Earth did not have some sort of Fall, a could still exist.

Day-Age Perspective: Hugh Ross argues that we need to understand the perspective from which the author is writing. According to verse 2, the perspective comes from to the “Spirit of God” who “was moving over the surface of the waters.” While we might assume that the observations of the author are from outer space looking downward, Ross argues that the text states that the perspective is from the Spirit looking upward from the surface of the Earth.[24] Lennox agrees, “This, incidentally, may well provide an answer to the question, if most of Genesis 1 is concerned with global phenomena—the heavens, earth, land, sea, sky, and so on—why does it talk about day and night, even though night and day occur simultaneously on different sides of the earth?”[25]

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This would explain why everything was dark. On our primitive planet, an opaque cloud covered the Earth. Using the language of simile, the psalmist describes the earth as being “covered… as with a garment” (Ps. 104:6). God tells Job, “I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness” (Job 38:9). All of this imagery teaches that the early earth was dark.

Day-Age proponents speculate that the language of the Spirit “hovering” (ESV, NIV) may describe the first initial creation of God (i.e. single-celled life). This term “hovering” (yeraḥēp) is only used one other time (Deut. 32:11), where it describes an “eagle… that hovers over its young.”[26] Historically, single-celled life was the first to originate on Earth, which would fit with this reading of Genesis 1:2. However, while this is interesting speculation, this is a clear case of concordism, where we are squeezing scientific discoveries into a text. It’s doubtful that Moses had this in mind when he wrote that the Spirit was “hovering” over the water.

Intermittent-Day View: Newman concurs that we need to read Genesis from the perspective of a viewer on the Earth’s surface. He writes, “Historical events in the Old Testament are relayed from a personal standpoint; that is, events are written as though the writer is personally present and saying, in effect, ‘This is what I saw.’ Accordingly, we propose that Genesis 1 gives a description of what the various creation events would have looked like to an earthbound observer had one been present to see God’s work. Rather than a description of the creation from heaven, the language portrays creation as viewed by one caught up in its midst.”[27] Consequently, he holds that this was a literal day, where day and night were observed. On his view, the second day could have occurred eons later.[28]


Exegetical Notes to the Prologue by Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks

Summary Statement (1:1)[29]

  1. In the beginning. The daring claim of verse 1, which encapsulates the entire narrative, invites the reader into the story. Its claim and invitation is that in the beginning God completed perfectly this entire cosmos. “Beginning” refers to the entire created event, the six days of creation, not something before the six days[30] nor a part of the first day. Although some have argued that 1:1 functions as merely the first event of creation, rather than a summary of the whole account, the grammar makes that interpretation improbable.[31]

God [ʾelōhîm]. The form is plural in Hebrew to denote God’s majesty.[32] This name of God represents his transcendent relationship to creation. He is the quintessential expression of a heavenly being. God, unlike human beings, is without beginning, begetting, opposition, or limitations of power.

created [bārāʾ]. This telic verb refers to the completed act of creation.[33] Although many verbs denote God’s activity of bringing creation into existence,[34] bārāʾ distinguishes itself by being used exclusively of God. His creation reveals his immeasurable power and might, his bewildering imagination and wisdom, his immortality and transcendence, ultimately leaving the finite mortal in mystery. The earth endures in part because it is brought into existence through God’s wisdom, which entails his righteousness. His creation embodies both physical and sociocultural aspects of reality (see Prov. 3:19–20; 8:22–31).[35] Because of God’s largess, the apple tree does not produce one apple but thousands, and the grain of wheat multiplies itself a hundredfold.

the heavens and the earth. This merism represents the cosmos,[36] meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives. In all its uses in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 2:1, 4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 65:17; Jer. 23:24),[37] this phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.[38]

Negative State of Earth before Creation (1:2)

  1. Now the earth.[39] The starting point of the story may be somewhat surprising. There is no word of God creating the planet earth or darkness or the watery chaos.[40] The narrator begins the story with the planet already present, although undifferentiated and unformed. In God’s creative power he will transform the darkness into an ordered universe.

earth. This term is used in three ways in the prologue: to signify the cosmos, when part of a compound phrase with “heaven” (see 1:1); to signify dry land (see 1:10); and, as it is used here, to signify what we would call the planet.

formless and empty [tōhû wāḇōhû]. This phrase is an antonym to the “heavens and the earth,” signifying something uncreated or disordered (Jer. 4:23–27). According to David Tsumura, this syntagm “refers to the earth as an empty place, i.e. ‘an unproductive and uninhabited place.’ ” Tsumura convincingly argues that the concern of the narrative is for life: birds, animals, and vegetation. The negative state of the earth reflects a situation in which the earth is not producing life.[41] Chronologically, this must describe the state of the earth prior to verse 1, as it would be a contradiction to represent the creation as formed cosmos and the earth as unformed.

darkness was over the surface of the deep. The earth is a dark abyss, inhospitable to life. “Darkness” and “deep,” as opposites of “light” and “land,” connote surd evil (Ex. 15:8; Prov. 2:13). They too become part of God’s creation, doing his will (see Gen. 45:5–7).

Spirit of God [rûaʾelōhîm]. Since the word rendered “Spirit” (rûa) can also mean “wind,”[42] some argue that this should be translated “wind of God” or “mighty wind.” A good case can be made for either “Spirit” or “wind.” In the re-creation after the Flood, God again sends a rûa—there clearly a wind—over the waters (8:1). Here, however, the rûa is modified by ʾelōhîm, which in the rest of this chapter always means “God,” not “mighty.” Thus, Spirit better fits the context.[43] Hovering eaglelike over the primordial abyss, the almighty Spirit prepares the earth for human habitation. John Sailhamer connects the role of the Spirit in building God’s cosmic temple (cf. Ps. 104:1–3, 30) with the Spirit’s filling of Bezalel to build his tabernacle on earth (Ex. 31:1–5).[44]

Creation by Word (1:3–31)

Day One (1:3–5)

3. And God said. See announcement in Literary Analysis above. Into the negative state enters the word of God that puts light in the midst of darkness, land in the midst of sea, air in the midst of water and that overcomes the uninhabitable world that marked the setting of creation. Gerhard von Rad observes, “The idea of creation by the word preserves first of all the most radical essential distinction between Creator and creature. Creation cannot be even remotely considered an emanation from God … but is rather a product of his personal will.” Subtly but implicitly, the Genesis creation account serves as a polemic against the ancient Near Eastern myths.28 Whereas the forces of nature are often deities in the ancient Near Eastern creation myths, here all derive from and are subject to God’s word (see also “light” and “two great lights” below). Though creation is not part of God’s being, all creation is utterly dependent on God for its subsistence and sustenance (cf. Neh. 9:6; Acts 17:25, 28).[45]



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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:

Temporal heading


“In the beginning when …”



“When the Lord God made …”



“the earth was formless and empty …”



“and no shrub of the field had yet appeared …”

Main sentence


“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 ipāʾ 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 [1971]: 159). However, the ipāʾ 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 [7]; 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.

LXX Septuagint

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 [1959]: 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. ag. 12a, “Ten things were created on the first day …” (i.e., elements of 1:1–3).

[1] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 137–144.

[2] Paul J. Kissling, Genesis, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 2004–), 86–91.

[3] Henri Blocher (pronounced blosh-AE) writes, “All the ancient versions, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus, the Targum of Onqelos, interpreted it in this way, as of course do most modern translations. The apostle John confirms it when he echoes the prologue of Genesis in that of his Gospel (Jn. 1:1).” Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), p.62.

[4] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p.28.

[5] C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), p.42.

[6] Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Zondervan, 2009), p.192.

[7] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p.28.

[8] C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), p.156.

[9] Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), p.14.

[10] Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p.144.

[11] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p. 58. Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), p.63.

[12] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p.28.

[13] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.59.

[14] Emphasis mine. Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), p.15. See also Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p.145.

[15] Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), p.20.

[16] Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p.47.

[17] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), p.115.

[18] John H. Sailhamer, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p.20.

[19] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.60.

[20] Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1963), pp. 98-101).

[21] K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966), pp.89-90.

[22] K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966), pp.89-90.

[23] C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), p.51.

[24] Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis (Reasons to Believe, Covina, CA: 2014), p.31.

[25] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), p.172.

[26] John H. Sailhamer, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990),p.25.

[27] Robert C. Newman, Perry G. Phillips, Herman J. Eckelmann, Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth (2nd ed. Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 2007), p.63.

[28] Retrieved Saturday, November 26, 2022.

[29] For a detailed exegesis of Gen. 1:1–3, see B. K. Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3,” BSac 132 (1975): 25–36, 136–44, 216–28; 133 (1976): 28–41.

[30] This is a relative beginning. As verse 2 seems to indicate, there is a pre-Genesis time and space.

[31] Those who hold to that view believe that 1:2 clarifies 1:1, that is, God creates the earth as an unformed mass. Martin Luther, arguing for this view, said, “heaven and earth are the crude and formless masses … up to that time” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1–5, ed. J. Pelikan [Saint Louis: Concordia, 1958], 6). John Calvin also took this position (A Commentary on Genesis, ed. and trans. J. King [London: Banner of Truth, 1965], 69–70).

[32] Considered an honorific plural (IBHS §7.4.3b).

[33] A telic verb (i.e., die or sell) only finds meaning at the end of a process. The Hebrew term bārāʾ, meaning “to create,” only refers to a completed act of creation (cf. Deut. 4:32; Ps. 89:12; Isa. 40:26; Amos 4:13), so it cannot mean that, in the beginning, God began the process of creating the cosmos.

[34] See, for example, ʿśh “make, do” (Isa. 45:18); pʿl “make, work” (Ex. 15:17); yṣr “form, shape” (Isa. 45:18); kwn “to establish, make firm” (Prov. 8:27).

[35] See R. Van Leeuwen, “brʾ,” NIDOTTE, 1:731.

[36] A merism is a statement of opposites to indicate totality. For instance, “day and night” means “all the time.” In such usage the words cannot be understood separately but must be taken as a unity. Just as the English expression “part and parcel” cannot be understood by studying part and parcel as independent terms, so the merism of the Hebrew words heavens (šāmayim) and earth (ʾere) cannot be understood by studying the words separately but only by studying the unit. As a unit this refers to the organized universe.

[37] In the Apocrypha, Wisdom of Solomon 1:14 refers to the heavens and earth of Gen. 1:1 as ho kosmos (“the world”).

[38] In his otherwise superb commentary, Wenham invests this compound with the unique meaning “totality” in contradistinction to “ordered cosmos,” but his unsubstantiated meaning violates accredited philology (Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15).

[39] One novel suggestion resolves the seeming contradiction of verses 1 and 2 by limiting “the earth” to the land of Israel (see J. Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound [Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1996], 47–59). This suggestion does not make sense of the inclusio formed by 1:1 and 2:1. Since 1:1 refers to the cosmos, so also must 2:1 and, consequently, the entire narrative. The argument also fails in its analysis of day four, since grammatically rʾh does not mean in the Qal stem “to appear,” as he suggests.

[40] Genesis 1:2 tells us nothing about an old earth or a young earth.

[41] D. T. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (JSOTSup 83; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 42–43.

[42] An absolute superlative (IBHS §14.5b).

[43] For a helpful summary of the arguments for “Spirit,” see Hamilton, Genesis 1–17, 111–14.

[44] Sailhamer, Pentateuch, 32.

[45] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 58–60.

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