Topic:   Creation Type:   Book Author: E. J. Young


Dedication and other information
Editor’s Preface
The Relation of the 1st Verse of Genesis 1 to Verses 2 and 3
The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - CRITICISM  
The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - DEFENSE  
The DAYS of Genesis - CRITICISM   
The DAYS of Genesis - DEFENSE   

International Library of Philosophy and Theology: BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES - J. Marcellus Kik, Editor

DEDICATED to Oswald T. Allis
who has so greatly influenced my thinking on the Old Testament

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 64-17028 - Printed in the United States of America


The following three studies in the first chapter of Genesis are based upon the assumption that this chapter is a revelation from God, and that it tells us about the origin of all things. It is not regarded as the product of the mature reflection of the Israelites, nor as an account devised by the faith and thought of Israel of old.

This position runs counter to much that is being written in the present day, but much that is written today is based upon a view of the Bible which is not that of the Bible itself. In these three studies I have simply endeavored to take the Bible as it stands, and sought to interpret its first chapter. In so doing I wish to make it plain that I am no foe of science, but I believe that the facts of the created universe, when rightly interpreted, will prove to be in harmony with the revelation which God has given us in the first chapter of Genesis [Emphasis added-aal]. Without this first chapter of the Bible, our endeavors to explain the origin of all things will be futile, for this chapter contains information which we cannot find elsewhere.

It is my sincere hope that the study of these articles, which first appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal, will at least cause men to entertain a higher view of the trustworthiness of the first chapter of Genesis than is often the case and will lead them to a greater reverence and love for Him who is the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Edward J. Young, March 1964


The history of the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture gives evidence that the subordination of biblical authority to reason to feelings, to science invariably leads to mistrust of more and more biblical teachings. One cannot help being concerned about the drift of some evangelical scholars to subject the interpretation of Genesis 1 to modern scientific opinions. There is a dangerous tendency to interpret the first chapter of Genesis, not by strict and accurate exegesis, but in a manner so as to satisfy the "scientific mind." This yielding spirit is fraught with danger not only to the biblical doctrine of creation but to other doctrines as well.

The Christian theologian must always subject his mind to the authority of Scripture and his primary concern must be to interpret the infallible Word according to the intended meaning of the writer. This may expose the interpreter to the scorn of the modern scholar but it is the only honest method for those who hold unequivocally to the biblical concept of inspiration. Not only the authority of the Old Testament is at stake but also that of the New Testament for it looks upon the revelation of Genesis 1 as an account of historical facts.

Evangelical and Reformed scholarship has been especially blessed with competent scholars in the Old Testament field. Men like Robert Dick Wilson and Oswald T. Allis have been mighty defenders of the faith and distinguished scholars. A worthy successor is Professor Edward J. Young of Westminster Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. His written works have earned him the reputation of being the leading conservative scholar in the field of Old Testament today. The present treatise on the first chapter of Genesis reveals both a depth of learning and a spirit willing to subject itself to the authority of the Word.

Among the published works of Dr. Young are: The Prophecy of Daniel; An Introduction to the Old Testament; Thy Word is Truth; and his most recent, Commentary On Isaiah.

J. Marcellus Kik, Editor

The Relation of the 1st Verse of Genesis 1 to Verses 2 and 3

If the first chapter of Genesis presents a historical account of the creation, it follows that, for a proper understanding of the chapter, one must also apprehend the relationship in which the first verse stands to the following. If, on the other hand, the chapter contains mere mythology or untrustworthy tradition or is not to be regarded as historical, the exegetical questions which it raises are of comparatively minor importance. The following attempt to discuss the relationship in which the first verse of Genesis stands to the following is based upon the assumption that these verses present a factual account of what actually occurred.


We may first note those interpretations which do not consider the verse an independent statement, but treat it as a dependent clause, with the principal or independent sentence following.

1. Ibn Ezra and others regarded the first verse as a dependent clause, the main statement appearing in verse two 1[If this construction of Ibn Ezra’s were correct, we should expect verse two to read, Jrah yhtw or Jrah htyh. Thus, in Jeremiah 26:1 we read, hzh rbdh hyh > > > <yqywhy twklmm tyvarb and in Hosea 1:2, rbd tljt uvwh la hwhy rmayw Jvwhb hwhy. See U. Cassuto: A Commentary On The Book of Genesis (in Hebrew), 1953, Part I, p. 10]. The thought would then be, "When God began to create the Heavens and the Earth, the Earth was without form and void".

2. A second view finds the first verse to be a dependent statement, with verse two a parenthesis, the main thought being expressed in the third verse 2[Cassuto points out (op. cit., p. 10) that if this construction were correct we should expect to find in verse two, whbw wht Jrahw, and the htyh should be omitted. Thus, in 1 Samuel 3:2 ff., the circumstantial clauses are expressed bkwv yluw and bkwv lawmvw]. On this construction we may render, "When God began to create the Heavens and the Earth–and the Earth was without form and void, etc.–then God said, Let there be light." One of the first to propound this view was Rashi, and he has had many followers.

These two views are probably the most important of those which regard the first verse as a dependent statement. And of the two it is the latter which is by far the more widely accepted today 3[This construction is adopted in The Bible, An American Translation (The University of Chicago Press, 1931, p. 3). Genesis is translated by Theophile J. Meek. The Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1948, p. 23), in a footnote, prefers this construction to the more accurate rendering of the Authorized Version. It also appears in the translation of James Moffatt (Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1922, p. 1). Hermann Gunkel (Die Genesis, Göttingen, 1922, p. 101), places 2:4a before verse one, as does August Dillmann (Genesis Critically and Exegetically Expounded, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 55)]. Each of these two interpretations constitutes a serious departure from the traditional position that the first verse is an independent statement [Emphasis added - aal]. It must be clearly seen that if verse one is a dependent clause, the doctrine of absolute creation is then not taught in the first chapter of Genesis 4[As is the case in the Revised Standard Version, the Westminster Study Edition renders one way in the body of the text and then, without further explanation, suggests the other (namely, that verse one is a dependent clause) in a footnote. Such a procedure can only confuse the unlearned reader and awaken a doubt in his mind as to the reliability of the text of the Old Testament]. On either of these constructions, when the work indicated by arb is begun, there is already in existence material which may be designated Jrah, albeit that material was an uninhabitable mass. Pre-existing matter was there at hand, and, consequently, whatever else arb may then mean, in the nature of the case it cannot denote absolute creation. At best it would have to indicate some work of moulding or forming. Inasmuch, however, as the material which God is to employ is already at hand–how it came to be there we are not told–God’s activity mentioned in verse one would not be that of true creation.

It is necessary that we fully realize the implications involved in the acceptance of either of these views. Our acceptance or rejection of a particular interpretation must, of course, depend upon exegetical considerations, but we must also be guided by the analogy of Scripture. If then we are to adopt either of these views we must be clear as to what we are doing and of the consequences involved, and whatever we do, we must not follow the practice of those who seem to imply that Genesis 1:1 can at the same time be either a dependent or an independent statement 5[With respect to the significance of Genesis 1:1 if taken as a temporal clause, Gunkel (op. cit., p. 102) remarks, "Beide (i.e., either the construction of Genesis 1:1 as an independent statement or as a temporal clause) sind übrigens nur grammatisch und nicht dem Sinne nach verschieden." This statement must be dismissed as incorrect]. Are we then on safe exegetical ground if we assert that absolute creation is not taught in the first chapter of Genesis?


Those who interpret Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause construe tyvarb as a construct. Some, such as Biblia Hebraica, then suggest that the verb arb be emended to the infinitive construct arb, so that the translation would be, "in the beginning of the creating of God," i.e., "when God began to create" 6[Biblia Hebraica, ed. Rud. Kittel. Privileg. Württ. Bibelanstalt, 1954, ad loc]. It is not necessary, however, to emend the word, because the construct followed by a finite verb is a genuine Semitic usage 7[There are numerous biblical examples of this construction. Cf. LEV 14:46; 1SA 5:9; 25:15; PSA 16:3; 58:9; 81:6; ISA 29:1; HOS 1:2. As the following examples will show, the construct in Babylonian may also be followed by a finite verb. a-wa-at iq-bu-ú, "the word which he has spoken," (Code of Hammurabi, col. Va:62); na-di-in id-di-nusum, "the seller who sold to him," (col. VIIa: 19, 20); bît îpusu imqut, "(when) the house which he built falls," [col. XIX: 69 f.]; bît imqutu ippes, "the house which fell, he built," (col. XIX:92); ina dîn idînu, "in the judgment which he has judged," (col. VI:15). Von Soden gives several examples: ana bît têrubu damiqta sukun, "procure good for the house (in which) thou didst enter," kasap êrisu-ka, "the silver which he asked of thee" (Grundriss der Akkadischen Grammatik, 1952, p. 219). Von Soden comments, "Rel.-S. können auch ohne einleitendes Rel. Pron. unmittelbar an das Beziehungssubst. angeschlossen werden; dieses tritt dann wie vor einer nominalen Gen. in den St. cstr" (p. 219)]. If the finite verb be retained the rendering would be "In the beginning of God created–" i.e., "When God began to create."

It will first be necessary to ascertain whether in this particular passage tyvarb must be construed as a construct. All told the word tyvar is found 50 times in the Old Testament. Apart from Genesis 1:1 the form tyvarb appears only four times, always in Jeremiah and in each instance in the construct state. For that matter the greater number of occurrences of the word are clearly in the construct 8[An excellent recent discussion of the significance of tyvar will be found in N. H. Ridderbos: ("Genesis 1:1 und 2," in Oudtestamentische Studien, Deel xii, Studies on the Book of Genesis, 1958, pp. 216-219). His conclusion is that the use of tyvar in Genesis 1:1 does not support the translation of the first verse as a temporal clause].

As has often been pointed out, the word serves to designate the first or best part of a thing. Thus, in Genesis 10:10, the words, the beginning of his kingdom was Asshur, would not signify that the kingdom began with Asshur, but rather that Asshur was its center and core. The beginning of the first fruits (e.g., DEU 26:1) was their best part. From this the word easily came to have a temporal significance, namely, the first part of something. Thus the phrase, In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim [JER 26:1], has reference to the earliest stages of that reign.

There are, however, some passages in which tyvar does stand in the absolute state. In Isaiah 46:10, even though it does not necessarily refer to the absolute beginning, the word is nevertheless in the absolute state. Likewise in Nehemiah 12:44 the word is clearly in the absolute. If then we sum up the occurrences of tyvar in the Old Testament, we find that whereas there are some examples of the absolute, for the most part the word is found in the construct. As far as the form itself is concerned one cannot tell whether it is absolute or construct. This decision must be based upon other considerations.

1. In the Masoretic text tyvarb is accented with the disjunctive Tiphcha. This means that according to the Masoretes the word has its own independent accent. The Masoretes therefore evidently construed the word as an absolute. This, of course, is not a decisive consideration, for the Masoretes were not infallible; but it has its place.

2. Likewise of significance is the fact that with no exceptions the ancient versions construed tyvarb as an absolute 9[It is interesting to note that certain recent commentaries likewise do not treat the first verse as a temporal clause. J. Chaine: Le Livre de la Genèse, 1949, "Au commencement Elohim créa les cieux et la terre". Chaine comments, "affirmation globale qui veut dire que Dieu est l’auteur du monde. Après cette indication qui résume en une formule toute l’oeuvre de Dieu, l’auteur reprend les choses plus en détail" (pp. 21, 22). La Sainte Bible, Tome I, 1er Partie, Genèse (Paris, 1953), translates, "Au commencement Dieu créa le ciel et la terre". With respect to the translation of verse one as a temporal clause, we read, "Les raisons invoquées a l’appui de cette interprétation, entres autres la construction prétendue semblable de II, 4b, et celle de récits babyloniens ne sauraient prévaloir contre le caractère même du récit aux phrases courtes se continuant et se complétant" (p. 104). Walther Zimmerli: 1. Mose 1-11, Die Urgeschichte, 1943, renders, "Im Anfang schuf Gott den Himmel und die Erde" (p. 23). Alan Richardson: Genesis I-XI, 1953, renders the verse in the traditional manner; Karlheinz Rabast: Die Genesis, 1951, adopts the traditional rendering of the verse and also remarks, "tyvarb steht ohne Artikel im Verbalsatz betont voran; es wird deshalb stat. abs. sein" (p. 43).

[We may also mention H. C. Leupold: Exposition of Genesis, 1942; U. Cassuto: op. cit., p. 10, who remarks, dmwu /w?harh qwsph? qyshl ?y wmxu ynpb and Gerhard Von Rad: Das erste Buch Mose, 1952, pp. 36, 37.

[Appeal for taking verse one as a temporal clause is sometimes made to the so-called creation account of Babylonia, Enuma Elish. In discussing this question, Heidel points out that if the writer of Genesis had patterned his account on the old Mesopotamian documents, it is strange that he should have employed tyvarb instead of <wyb. See Alexander Heidel: The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago, 1951), pp. 95 ff.

[The old Greek translations give barashq, barhseq, brhsiq, brishq and brhsid (cf. Field: Origenis Hexaplorum quae supersunt, Vol. I, Oxford 1875, p. 7). These variations, however, do not necessarily support the reading tyvarb.

[Procksch: Die Genesis, 1924, p. 440, remarks, "absolut zu fassen, wie auch das masoretische Tiphcha bestimmt". "Bei solchen unbestimmten Zeitbegriffen fehlt der Artikel gern". Eduard König: Die Genesis, Gütersloh, 1925, "Diese absolute Auffassung von bereschith ist neuerdings also mit Recht auch von folgenden vertreten worden: Wellhausen, Proleg. 411; Delitzsch; Strack; Spurrell; Driver; Gunkel 1910, 102 allerdings mehr bloss dem Scheine nach; Procksch 1913, 425; F. Kaulen, Der bibl. Schöpfungsbericht (1902), 9; Vinc. Zapletal, Der Schöpfungsbericht (1902), 8; J. Nikel, Genesis und Keilschriftforschung (1903), 107; Murillo", (p. 134).

[Wellhausen speaks of the construction of verse one as a temporal clause as "verzweifelt" (Prolegomena, p. 386)].

3. In the Old Testament when a construct precedes a finite verb that fact is apparent either from the form of the word in construct or from the fact that the context demands that the word be taken as a construct. In Hosea 1:2, for example, we read hwhy rbd tljt. Here the form of the word shows clearly that tljt must be a construct. On the other hand in a phrase such as that found in Exodus 6:28, rbd <wyb yhyw the context demands that, although as far as the form is concerned it might be either absolute or construct, <wy be taken in the construct state 10[This argument has been elaborated by G. Ch. Aalders: De Goddelijke Openbaring in de eerste drie Hoofdstukken van Genesis, 1932, p. 206, "Wanneer men nagaat, in welke gevallen een zelfstandig naamwoord in statu constructo met een verbogen werkwoordvorm verbonden wordt, ziet men onveranderlijk, dat alle misverstand is uitgesloten, hetzij omdat aan den vorm van het zelfstandig naamwoord te zien is dat het status constructus is ... hetzij omdat de zin en het zinsverband slechts één mogelijkheid toelaten"].

In Genesis 1:1 neither of these conditions is present. Neither the form of the word nor the context demands that tyvarb be taken as a construct. In fact, as we shall seek to point out, the context not only does not demand the construct but, if anything, favors the use of the absolute.

We may approach a consideration of this context by noting the alliteration with which the Bible begins. The sequence arb of tyvarb appears again in the verb arb. This would seem to tie up the concept expressed by tyvarb with that of arb. What then is the significance of arb? This question can be answered only by a survey of its usage in the Old Testament, and such a survey will confirm the time-honored and oft-noted view. In the Qal stem arb is employed exclusively of the divine activity. The subject of the verb is always God and never man. The idea of novelty or extraordinariness of result seems frequently to be implied. The word is employed with the accusative of the product but the material used, if any, is never mentioned. We are told that God created (arb) man, for example, but we are never told that God created man from the dust of the ground 11[The usage of the word has been discussed by Ridderbos (op. cit., pp. 219-223) who also comments on some of the recent literature. Rabast (op. cit.) sums up the usage as follows: "Das Verbum wird nur vom Schaffen Gottes gebraucht, niemals vom Tun des Menschen; es bedeutet immer, dass Gott etwas Wunderbares, Neues hervorbringt; es hat nie ein Objekt des Stoffes bei sich. Gott schafft völlig anders als ein Mensch" (p. 43)].

The word arb therefore, has a more restricted usage than does the English word "create". If in Genesis 1:1 Moses desired to express the thought of absolute creation there was no more suitable word in the Hebrew language at his disposal. And when this word is taken in close conjunction with tyvarb we may paraphrase the thought, "The beginning was by means of a creative act". The beginning and unique creation–namely, that of Heaven and Earth–are here joined together. Hence, we may understand the writer as asserting that the Heaven and Earth had a beginning and that this beginning is to be found in the fact that God had created them.

The first verse of Genesis therefore stands as a simple declaration of the fact of absolute creation [Emphasis added - aal]. When we consider the universe, and the questions arise in our minds, "Who made these things? What was their origin?" The first verse of Genesis gives an answer. And it answers with the simple declaration that God created the Heaven and the Earth.


What, however, is the relationship in which verse one stands to the following? An approach to the answer of this question can be found by an examination of the nature of verse two. The second verse consists of three circumstantial clauses:

1. and the Earth was desolation and waste,
2. and darkness – upon faces of abyss,
3. and the Spirit of God – brooding upon faces of the waters.

In the Semitic languages a circumstantial clause is descriptive of a particular condition, and is therefore to be distinguished from a narrative clause 12[For a discussion of the nature and function of the circumstantial clause in Hebrew, cf. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, Second English Edition, revised by A. E. Cowley, 1910, pp. 451, 489; William Henry Green: A Grammar of The Hebrew Language, 1898, pp. 377-379; H. S. Nyberg: Hebreisk Grammatik, 1952, pp. 283 ff.; P. Paul Joüon, Grammaire de l’Hébreu Biblique, 1947, p. 487]. The narrative clause contains a finite verb, whereas the circumstantial clause does not. Verse two contains three circumstantial clauses, thus describing a three-fold set of circumstances or conditions which were in existence at a particular time. The particular time in which this three-fold condition was present is to be determined by the finite verb, with which these three clauses are to be construed.

There would seem to be two grammatical possibilities. In the first place the three clauses might be construed with the arb of verse one 13[This view is adopted by Unger ("Rethinking The Genesis Account Of Creation" in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 115, No. 457, p. 28) who says, "In the original language Genesis 1:2 consists of three circumstantial clauses, all describing conditions or circumstances existing at the time of the principal action indicated in verse 1, or giving a reason for that action". Unger does not refer Genesis 1:1-3 to the original creation but to a later work of God, namely, the refashioning of a "judgment ridden" Earth in preparation for man. He translates verse one, "In the beginning God fashioned (or formed) the Heavens and the Earth". As we shall seek to show, this construction does not do justice to the language of Genesis]. If that were the case, the meaning would be that when God began the activity expressed by arb the three-fold condition described in verse two was already present. How long it had been present before God began to create, we would not know. We should simply be told that when God began to create, there was the world before Him, desolation and waste, covered with darkness and water, the Spirit brooding upon it. The work expressed by arb, whatever else it might be, could not be that of absolute creation.

Although such a construction is gramatically possible, it is to be rejected as unsuitable to the context. The significance of arb when taken in connection with tyvarb, together with the emphasis upon the divine monergism, as well as the progress of thought in the chapter make it clear that the chapter is not concerned merely with the reformation of already existing material 14[Cf. Young: "Genesis One And Natural Science" in Torch and Trumpet, Vol. VII, No. 4, pp. 16, 17]. Its theme is far grander than that.

The second possibility is to construe the three circumstantial clauses with the verb rmayw of verse three 15[There are several examples in the Old Testament of circumstantial clauses which precede the verb with which they are to be construed, e.g., GEN 38:25; NUM 12:14; JOS 2:18; 1SA 9:11; 1Ki 14:17; 2Ki 2:23; 6:5, 26; 9:25; JOB 1:16; ISA 37:38]. We may then paraphrase, "At the time when God said, Let there be light, a three-fold condition was in existence, namely, etc.". On this construction we are not told how long this three-fold condition had been in existence, whether for years or merely for moments. Nor is the creation of the three-fold condition explicitly stated. But we are now in a position to understand the relationship of verse one to what follows.

The first verse of Genesis is a broad, general, declaration of the fact of the creation of the Heaven and the Earth. The terms Jrah taw <ymvh ta include all things 16[Cf. Cyrus H. Gordon: The World of the Old Testament, New York, 1958, pp. 35-37]. When the child asks its parent, "Who made the world?" his question has reference to the world as he sees it. And when the parent replies, "God made the world", the parent does not intend to deny that God made the original material from which the present arrangement of the world is formed. Likewise, the first verse of Genesis, while telling us that the universe as we now know it was created by God, does not at all exclude the thought that the original material from which this present universe was fashioned, was also created by God 17[A number of commentators have insisted that the phrase the Heavens and the Earth refers to the primaeval material from which the universe was developed. Calvin asserts that the world was created "an empty chaos of Heaven and Earth," and seems to derive this thought from the words Heaven and Earth. "Simpliciter enim hoc voluit Moses: non statim ab initio expolitum fuisse mundum, ut hodie cernitur, sed inane coeli et terrae chaoe fuisse creatum" Calvini Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, Brunsvigiae, 1882, vol. xxiii, p. 14.

[Aalders: Het Boek Genesis, Eerste Deel, 1949, p. 77 (De Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift) argues that the manner in which verse two is connected to verse one shows that verse one is not a simple heading. Consequently, he asserts, the phrase Jrahw <ymvh of verse one does not designate the well ordered universe, but rather the condition of the world before God began His work of fashioning it into its present form ("moet dus de aanduiding wezen van de wereld voor de nadere vorming en ordening welke in die verzen wordt getekend" p. 78). It is the substance of Heaven and Earth ("in GEN 1:1 wordt beschreven de schepping van de stof waaruit de ganse wereld is gevormd" p. 78).

[In answer it should be noted that elsewhere, as Aalders himself seems to acknowledge the phrase Jrahw <ymvh does designate the well-ordered universe, o kosmoV. Second, the conclusions which Aalders draws from the connection between verses one and two do not necessarily follow. Verse two does obviously connect with verse one and employs the word Jrah in a sense different from that which it had in the first verse. In verse two Jrah serves as a practical equivalent of our designation "the Earth." It is the Earth as we now know it (cf. Procksch: op. cit., p. 441, "die bekannte Erde"). Hence, the thought may be paraphrased as follows: "And the Earth (i.e., the Earth we now know) at that time was desolation and waste." Aalders also interprets the Jrah of verse two in a similar fashion, "Dat de aarde hier zo op den voorgrond treedt behoeft geen verwondering te wekken: zij is het, waarop wij mensen wonen, waarop wij leven, lijden en sterven" (p. 78). Dr. Aalders also, then, is forced to take the word Jrah in verse two in a different sense from that which he gave to it in verse one. In verse one he took it in connection with <ymvh as signifying the primaeval world material; in verse two he refers it to the world on which men now live. That verse two refers to verse one does not therefore prove that verse one must have the meaning which Dr. Aalders gives to it.

[We may note also the following; "Quae coeli terraeque nomine in hoc Versu primo eorum tantummodo designatur materia, quae omnium primum erat efficienda" (Rosenmüller: Scholia In Vetas Testamentum, Partis Primae Volumen Primum, Lipsiae, MDCCCXXI, p. 64); C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch: Biblical Commentary On The Old Testament, Vol. I, 1949, p. 48. August Knobel (Die Genesis, Leipzig, 1852, pp. 7, 8) remarks, "d. h. den Anfang des Schaffens damit gemacht, dass er den Weltstoff hervorbrachte." With respect to the words "Heaven and Earth" he comments that they apply "–auf die chaotische Masse mit dem sie umgebenden Raume, also auf den Weltstoff" (p. 8). Skinner is correct in his comment (A Critical And Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, New York, 1925, p. 14) "For though that phrase (i.e., the Heavens and the Earth) is a Hebrew designation of the universe as a whole, it is only the organised universe, not the chaotic material out of which it was formed, that can actually be so designated." Gunkel comments (op. cit., p. 102), "Auf keinen Fall aber ist es erlaubt . . . Jrahw <ymvh als Bezeichnung der urzeitigen, hoch chaotischen Welt zu verstehen und zu behaupten, Vers 1 enthalte die Schöpfung der Welt als Chaos (so Wellhausen, Prolegomena 296, Composition 105), wobei dann Vers 2 den chaotischen Zustand dieser ersten Schöpfung und erst 3ff. die Entstehung der gegenwärtigen geordneten Welt schildern müsste"]. That fact is stated in grand summary fashion in verse one. Then follows a detailed account of how God brought the well-ordered universe from the original material into its present form. In this detailed account, however, there is no explicit statement of the creation of the primeval material from which the universe we know was formed.

The first act in forming the present universe was God’s speaking. The verb rmayw is introduced by waw consecutive, but it should now be clear that rmayw is not the second verb in a series introduced by arb of verse one 18[A similarly constructed narrative is found in 1KI 18:30 ff. Verse 30b is the general statement of the repairing of the altar. The detailed account begins in verse 31. The first verb in the detailed account is jqyw (verse 31). Grammatically, this verb does not follow apryw of verse 30. The order of thought is not, "First, Elijah repaired the altar, and then he took twelve stones." Verse 30b is a narrative unit, complete in itself; verses 31 ff. constitute another narrative unit, the first verb of which is jqyw]. Verse one is a narrative complete in itself. Verses 2-31 likewise constitute narrative complete in itself [Emphasis added - aal]. In this narrative the first verb is rmayw. No previous verb in the perfect appears.

In a narrative in the past time we often find the first verb in the perfect and each succeeding verb in the imperfect with waw consecutive. The first verb, however, i.e., the verb in the perfect, need not be expressed. Such is the case in the narrative comprised by verses 2-31. The first action mentioned in this narrative is that of the rmayw of verse three.

It has already been stated that we are not told how long the three-fold condition described in verse two had been in existence before God said, Let there be light. In view of the immediately preceding statement of absolute creation, however, we may not be far wrong if we assume that this three-fold condition had been in existence from the very beginning until God said, Let there be light. How long a time that was we of course have no means of knowing. Verse two then states the condition of the Earth as it was when created and until God began to form from it the present world.

Was, then, this three-fold condition a chaos? There are those who say that it was. What, however, is a chaos? As one of his definitions Webster states that chaos is, "The void and formless infinite; the confused, unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct or orderly forms;–sometimes personified, after the Greeks, as the most ancient of the Gods" 19[Webster’s New International Dictionary, Springfield, 1946]. In the Greek language the word caoV was used of the first state of the universe which was sometimes thought to be water, sometimes unformed matter 20[Hesiod: Theogony, 116, prwtista caoV genet, autar epeita Gai eurusternoV].

It is occasionally said that the statement, "creation of a chaos", would involve a contradiction in terms 21[E.g., Rabast, op. cit., "Die Erschaffung eines Chaos ist ein Widerspruch in sich selbst und passt nicht zu dem Gott des Kosmos und könnte höchstens von dem Fürsten der Finsternis stammen"], and hence, it is concluded that verse two does not present the condition of things as they came from the hand of the Creator 22[Merrill F. Unger: op. cit., pp. 27-35; Arno C. Gaebelein: The Annotated Bible, Vol. 1, 1913, p. 16, "It is of the greatest importance to understand that the condition in which the Earth (not the heavens) is described in the second verse is not how God created it in the beginning" G. H. Pember: Earth’s Earliest Ages, n. d., pp. 26 ff.; The Scofield Reference Bible, 1945, p. 3; The Pilgrim Bible, 1948, p. 1].

If, however, instead of asking, without more precisely defining the term, whether verse two describes a chaos, we simply seek to ascertain just what verse two does teach, we shall be in a better position to answer the question whether the world could have been created as it is pictured in verse two.

We are first told that the Earth was whbw wht, desolation and waste. The significance of wht is clearly illustrated by ISA 45:18, where it is set in contrast with tbvl. The purpose of creating the world is said to be that it might be inhabited, not that it might be wht 23[ISA 45:18 is often treated as though it taught that God did not create the Earth as a wht. This is a misinterpretation. The prophet is simply stating the purpose of creation. It should be noted that this very chapter of Isaiah (v. 11) speaks of God as "forming darkness" ivh rxwy]. Wht, therefore, indicates the world as desolate and uninhabitable 24[The LXX (Codex B) renders h de gh hn aoratoV kai akataskeuastoV. The Vulgate, Terra autem erat inanis et vacua]. Together with whb it forms a striking phrase. Whb has essentially the same meaning as wht, namely, "empty", "void", "waste". The Earth, therefore, is described as a desolation and a waste. This does not affirm that it was a confused mass, in the sense of being disordered or jumbled, but simply that it was not habitable, not ready for man. The same condition was also present at the close of the first day, except that at that time light had also been brought into existence. In so far as the words whbw wht are concerned we must conclude that they simply describe the Earth as not habitable. There is no reason why God might not have pronounced the condition set forth by the first circumstantial clause of verse two as "good".

The second clause affirms that darkness was upon the face of the abyss, i.e., the primeval waters, and the third clause declares that the Spirit of God was brooding upon the waters. Is this a description of a chaotic condition, a condition in which everything has become topsy-turvy as the result of a judgment? To ask that question is to answer it. Despite all that has been said to the contrary, we would affirm that verse two describes a condition of things in which all was under the control of the Spirit of God.

It is true that man could not at that time have lived upon the Earth, but, for that matter the Earth was not ready for man until the sixth day. At the same time even though the Earth was not in a habitable condition, it was as God desired it to be. It stands out in great contrast to the finished world of verse thirty-one, but at every stage in the development God is in control, things are as He desires them to be [Emphasis added - aal].

It would probably be wise to abandon the term "chaos" as a designation of the conditions set forth in verse two. The three-fold statement of circumstances in itself seems to imply order. The material of which this Earth consists was at that time covered with water, and darkness was all about. Over the waters, however, brooded God’s Spirit 25[Without at this point seeking to defend the position, I would affirm that <yhla jwr is to be translated "Spirit of God"]. There is something of the awesome in the description. But things were not always to continue so. It was God’s purpose to change this primeval condition. He would introduce light, would divide the waters, bring forth the dry land, make the heavenly bodies, fill the Earth with animals and finally place upon it man. There is majesty in the first chapter of Genesis, but that majesty is greatly impaired when the first three verses are misinterpreted.


By way of conclusion we would affirm that the first verse serves as a broad, comprehensive statement of the fact of creation. 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 first recorded step in the process of fashioning the Earth into the form in which it now appears was God’s remarkable utterance, Let there be light.

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This Page Last Updated: 12/25/98 A. Allison Lewis