Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992) 316-23

Copyright 1992 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

 

Genesis 1:1-3:

Creation or Re-Creation?

Part 1 (of 2 parts):

 

 

Mark F. Rooker

Dallas, Texas

 

An issue that has taunted mankind through the ages is the ques-

tion of origins. Since ancient times people have been keenly inter-

ested in understanding and explaining their provenance. The ancient

creation mythologies of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, Iran,

Japan, or Mexico,1 or a child's question to his parents about who made

the world shows that this concern is intrinsic to human nature.

The Bible clearly portrays God as the Creator of all that exists.

In fact this issue is so important in the biblical revelation that it is

the first issue addressed, for it is mentioned in the opening lines of

Scripture. However, these opening verses have not been understood

unilaterally in the history of interpretation. In his book Creation

and Chaos, Waltke, after thoroughly investigating existing views,

argues that there are three principal interpretations of Genesis 1:1-3

open to evangelicals. He designates these as the restitution theory,

the initial chaos theory, and the precreation chaos theory.2 Of pri-

mary importance in distinguishing these views is the relationship of

Genesis 1:2 to the original creation: "And 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." As Waltke

stated, "According to the first mode of thought, chaos occurred after

the original creation; according to the second mode of thought, chaos

 

1 For discussion of creation myths in different ancient civilizations see Samuel

Noah Kramer, Mythologies of the Ancient World (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,

1961), 36, 95, 120-21, 281-89, 382-85, 415-21, 449-54.

2 Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative

Baptist Seminary, 1974), 18.

316



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? 317

 

occurred in connection with the original creation; and in the third

mode of thought, chaos occurred before the original creation."3 This

article examines the theory of a period of chaos after creation (often

called the gap theory) and the initial chaos theory, and the second

article in the series analyzes the precreation chaos theory, the view

endorsed by Waltke and other recent commentators on Genesis .4

 

The Gap Theory

 

The restitution theory, or gap theory, has been held by many

and is the view taken by the editors of The New Scofield Reference

Bible.5 This view states Genesis 1:1 refers to the original creation of

the universe, and sometime after this original creation Satan re-

belled against God and was cast from heaven to the earth.6 As a re-

sult of Satan's making his habitation on the earth, the earth was

judged. God's original creation was then placed under judgment, and

the result of this judgment is the state described in Genesis 1:2: The

earth was "formless and void" (UhbovA UhTo). Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah

4:23, which include the only other occurrences of the phrase UhbovA UhT,

are cited as passages that substantiate the understanding of

"formless and void" in Genesis 1:2 in a negative sense, because these

words occur in both passages in the context of judgment oracles.

Waltke points out that this view conflicts with a proper under-

standing of the syntactical function of the waw conjunction in the

phrase Cr,xAhAv;, "and the earth" (Gen. 1:2). The construction of waw

plus a noun does not convey sequence but rather introduces a disjunc-

tive clause. The clause thus must be circumstantial to verse 1 or 3. It

cannot be viewed as an independent clause ("And the earth be-

came")7 as held by the supporters of the gap theory.

Furthermore Waltke rejects the proposal that the occurrence of

"formless and void" in Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11 proves that

Genesis 1:2 is the result of God's judgment. Scripture nowhere states

that God judged the world when Satan fell.8

 

3 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 19.

4 See especially Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988),

106-7, 723; and Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, New Interna-

tional Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 117.

5 The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1, n.

5, and 752-3, n. 2. For an extensive defense of the gap theory see Arthur C. Custance,

Without Form and Void (Brockville, Ontario, N.p., 1970).

6 Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are often cited as biblical support for this teaching.

7 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 19. Also see Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word

Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 15.

8 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 24.



318 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1992

 

In view of these objections, the gap theory should no longer be

considered a viable option in explaining the meaning of Genesis 1:1-

3. The view is grammatically suspect, and Scripture is silent on the

idea that the earth was judged when Satan fell. Waltke's critique

of the gap theory is devastating.9

 

The Initial Chaos Theory

 

Proponents of the initial chaos theory maintain that Genesis 1:1

refers to the original creation, with verse 2 providing a description

of this original creation mentioned in verse 1 by the use of three dis-

junctive clauses. This is the traditional view held by Luther and

Calvin, and it is the position mentioned in the renowned Gesenius-

Kautzsch-Cowley Hebrew grammar.10

Waltke argues that this view is unacceptable because it requires

that the phrases "the heavens and the earth" in verse 1 and

"without form and void" in verse 2 be understood differently from

their usual meaning in the Old Testament.11 In the initial chaos the-

ory "the heavens and the earth"12 in verse 1 were created without

form and void. However, as Waltke observes, this "demands that

we place a different value on 'heaven and earth' than anywhere else

in Scripture. . . Childs concluded that the compound never has the

meaning of disorderly chaos but always of an orderly world."13

A second objection proceeds from the first. If verse 2 describes

the condition of the earth when it was created, then the phrase

"without form and void," which otherwise appears to refer to an

orderless chaos, must be understood as referring to what God pro-

 

9 For a comprehensive refutation of the gap theory see Weston W. Fields, Unformed

and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory of Genesis 1:1, 2 (Winona Lake, IN: Light

and Life Press, 1973).

10 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 25. This traditional view is also reflected in the

popular Hartom and Cassuto biblical commentary series in Israel. See A. S. Hartom

and M. D. Cassuto, "Genesis," in Torah, Prophets, and Writings (Jerusalem: Yavneh,

1977), 14 (in Hebrew).

11 Westermann offers the same objection to this position (Claus Westermann, Genesis.

1-11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion [London: SPCK, 1984], 95).

12 It is generally accepted that the phrase constitutes a merism and thus refers to all

things, that is, the universe (Westermann, Genesis. 1-11: A Commentary, 101; Nahum

M. Sarna, Genesis: The JPS Torah Commentary [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication So-

ciety, 19891, 5; Ross, Creation and Blessing, 106; John H. Sailhamer, "Genesis," in The

Expositor's Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], 23; Harry M. Orlin-

sky, "The Plain Meaning of Genesis 1:1-3," Biblical Archaeologist [1983]: 208; and

Waltke, Creation and Cosmos, 26). Similar expressions to denote the universe occur in

Egyptian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic literature (Wenham, Genesis 1-15,15).

13 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 25-26. Similarly, see John Skinner, A Critical and

Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.

& T. Clark, 1910), 14; and Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 105.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? 319

 

duced along with the darkness and the deep, which likewise have

negative connotations.14 But this would not be possible in a perfect

cosmos. As Waltke argues, "Logic will not allow us to entertain the

contradictory notions: God created the organized heaven and earth;

the earth was unorganized."15 It is also argued that Isaiah 45:18

states explicitly that God did not create a UhTo.

The remainder of this article discusses these objections to the

initial chaos theory.

 

THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH

 

In reference to Waltke's objection concerning the use of the

phrase "the heavens and the earth" in Genesis 1:1 one may ask, Must

the expression "the heavens and the earth" have the same meaning

throughout the canon, especially if the contextual evidence explic-

itly refers to its formulation? It is a valid question to ask whether

the initial reference to the expression in question would have the

meaning it did in subsequent verses after the universe had been com-

pleted. It should be emphasized that this is the first use of the

phrase and one could naturally ask how else the initial stage of the

universe might be described. The phrase here could merely refer to

the first stage of creation. This idea that Genesis 1:1 refers to the

first stage in God's creative activity might be supported by the con-

text, which clearly reveals that God intended to create the universe

in progressive stages. Furthermore early Jewish sources attest that

the heavens and the earth were created on the first day of God's cre-

ative activity.16 Wenham nicely articulates this position in addi-

tion to replying to the objection raised by Waltke and others:

 

Here it suffices to observe that if the creation of the world was a unique

event, the terms used here may have a slightly different value from

elsewhere.Commentators often insist that the phrase "heaven and

earth" denotes the completely ordered cosmos. Though this is usually

the case, totality rather than organization is its chief thrust here. It is

therefore quite feasible for a mention of an initial act of creation of the

whole universe (v. 1) to be followed by an account of the ordering of dif-

ferent parts of the universe (vv. 2-31).17

 

14 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 24. Waltke and others maintain that Genesis 1:2

refers to something negative. This will be dealt with in the subsequent article, which

will analyze the precreation chaos theory more critically.

15 Ibid., 26. Similarly, Skinner wrote, "A created chaos is perhaps a contradiction"

(Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, 13).

16 Second Esdras 6:38 and b. Hag. 12a. Sailhamer also maintains that Genesis 1:1 was

part of the first day of creation. This is the reason the author referred to dHAx, MOY, "day

one" (Gen. 1:5) instead of the expected NOwxri MOy, "first day" ("Genesis," 26, 28).

17 Wenham, Genesis 1-15,12-13, 15. Also see Eduard Konig, Die Genesis (Gtersloh:

C. Bertelsmann, 1925), 136.



320 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1992

 

This is also Luther's understanding of the meaning of the phrase in

Genesis 1:1: "Moses calls 'heaven and earth,' not those elements

which now are; but the original rude and unformed substances."18

If the phrase "the heavens and the earth" does not refer to the

completed and organized universe known to subsequent biblical writ-

ers, the premise on which Waltke rejects the initial chaos theory is

seriously undermined.

 

FORMLESS AND VOID

As previously mentioned the words UhTo and UhBo occur together in

only three passages in the Old Testament. The word UhBo occurs only in

combination with UhTo, while UhTo may occur by itself. The most current

and comprehensive discussion of the phrase in reference to cognate

Semitic languages as well as biblical usage is given by Tsumura:

Hebrew tōh is based on a Semitic root *thw and means "desert."' The

term bōh is also a Semitic term based on the root *bhw, "to be empty."

. . . The Hebrew term bōh means (1) "desert," (2) "a desert-like place,"

i.e. "a desolate or empty place" or "an uninhabited place" or (3) "empti-

ness." The phrase tōh wāb ōh refers to a state of "aridness or unpro-

ductiveness" (Jer. 4:23) or "desolation" (Isa. 34:11) and to a state of

"unproductiveness and emptiness" in Genesis 1:2.19

Thus both the etymological history and contextual usage of the

phrase fail to support Waltke's view that the situation described in

Genesis 1:2 is that of a chaotic, unorganized universe. He overstates

the force of the phrase "formless and void."

But what about the evidence from Isaiah 45:18? Does not this

imply that God was not responsible for creating the state described

in Genesis 1:2? The text reads, "For thus says the Lord, who 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 [UhTo], but formed it

to be inhabited)." Does not this passage explicitly state that God

 

18 Martin Luther, The Creation: A Commentary on the First Five Chapters of the

Book of Genesis, trans. Henry Cole (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858), 27. See also C. F.

Keil and F. Delitzsch, "Genesis," in Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 1:48; Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (San Diego: Cre-

ation-Life, 1976), 40-41; Sailhamer, "Genesis," 26. This was also the view of Origen,

Philo, and Gregory of Nyssa. See Custance, Without Form and Void, 18; and J. C. M.

van Winden, "The Early Christian Exegesis of 'Heaven and Earth' in Genesis 1,1," in

Romanitas et Christianitas, ed. W. den Boer, P. G. van der Nat, C. M. J. Sicking, and J.

C. M. van Winden (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1973),373-74.

19 David Toshio Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis I and 2: A Linguistic

Investigation, JSOT Supplement Series 83 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 155-56. See

also "UhbovA UhTo," in Encyclopedia Migrait, 8:436 (in Hebrew); and Johann Fischer, Das

Buch Isaias. II. Teil: Kapitel 40-66, Die Heilige Schrift des Alten Testamentes (Bonn:

Peter Hanstein, 1939), 83. The understanding of UhBo as "empty" is reinforced by the

Aramaic Targum rendering of the word as xynqvr. The New International Version

renders the phrase "formless and empty."



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? 321

 

did not create a UhTo? Waltke and others argue that this parallel pas-

sage substantiates the claim that God did not bring about the state

described in Genesis 1:2 by His creative powers.20 The answer to this

objection appears to be found in the purpose of God's creation as seen

in the context of Isaiah 45:18. It could be argued from the context

that God created the earth to be inhabited, 21 not to leave it in a des-

olate UhTo condition. Rather than contradicting the initial chaos

theory, Isaiah 45:18 actually helps clarify the meaning of UhTo. in Ge-

nesis 1:2. Since UhTo is contrasted with tb,w,lA, "to inhabit,"22 one

should conclude that UhTo is an antonym of "inhabiting."23 The earth,

immediately after God's initial creative act was in a condition that

was not habitable for mankind.24 Tsumura nicely summarizes the

contribution of Isaiah 45:18 to the understanding of Genesis 1:2:

tōh here is contrasted with lasebet in the parallelism and seems to re-

fer rather to a place which has no habitation, like the term semamah

"desolation" (cf. Jer. 4:27; Isa. 24:12), hareb "waste, desolate" and 'azubah

"deserted." There is nothing in this passage that would suggest a chao-

tic state of the earth "which is opposed to and precedes creation." Thus,

the term tōh here too signifies "a desert-like place and refers to an

uninhabited place. It should be noted that -tōh here is a resul-

tative object, referring to the purpose of God's creative action. In other

words, this verse explains that God did not create the earth so that it

may stay desert-like, but to be inhabited. So, this verse does not con-

tradict Gen 1:2, where God created the earth to be productive and in-

habited though it "was" still tōh wāb ōh in the initial state.25

 

20 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 27. Also see Ross,, Creation and Blessing, 106, 722.

21 John Peter Lange, "Genesis," in Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 499; Edward J. Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2,"

Westminster Theological Journal 23 (1960-61): 154; R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-66,

New Century Bible (Greenwood, SC: Attic, 1975), 110-11; Fields, Unformed and Un-

filled: A Critique of the Gap Theory of Genesis 1:1, 2, 123-24. This text thus corre-

sponds to the account in Genesis 1, which indicates that God did not leave the earth in

this state. Thus John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 4 vols.,

trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 3:418; Delitzsch, "Genesis,"

227; and John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Dou-

bleday, 1968), 83. Waltke's contention that Isaiah 45:18 refers to the completed

creation at the end of the six days does not undermine this view that Isaiah 45:18 is

concerned with the purpose of creation. For Waltke's view, see "The Creation Account

in Genesis 1:1-3. Part II: The Restitution Theory," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 144.

22 J. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters XL-LXVI (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1898), 65; and Sailhamer, "Genesis," 24-25.

23 For discussion of the use of antonyms or binary opposites in delimiting and clarify-

ing the meaning of terms in context see John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguis-

tics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 460-70; and John Barton, Reading

the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 109-12.

24 Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2," 170; s.v. "UhbovA UhTo," Encyclopedia Miqrait, :436.

25 Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis I and 2, 33-34. This would also per-

tain to the phrase in Isaiah 34:11. The threat would be that the land would become a



322 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1992

 

The early Jewish Aramaic translation Neophyti I provides an

early attestation to this understanding in its expansive translation

of UhbovA UhTo: "desolate without human beings or beast and void of all

cultivation of plants and of trees."26 Tsumura writes, "In conclusion,

both the biblical context and extra-biblical parallels suggest that

the phrase tōh wāb ōh in Gen 1:2 has nothing to do with 'chaos'

and simply means 'emptiness' and refers to the earth which is an

empty place, i.e.. an unproductive and uninhabited place.27 This

understanding of verse 2 fits well with the overall thrust and struc-

ture of Genesis 1:1-2:3.

 

As the discourse analysis of this section indicates, the author in v. 2 fo-

cuses not on the "heavens" but on the "earth" where the reader/

audience stands, and presents the "earth" as "still" not being the earth

which they all are familiar with. The earth which they are familiar with

is "the earth" with vegetation, animals and man. Therefore, in a few

verses, the author will mention their coming into existence through

God's creation: vegetation on the third day and animals and man on

the sixth day. Both the third and the sixth day are set as climaxes in the

framework of this creation story and grand climax is the creation of

man on the sixth day. . . . The story of creation in Gen 1:1-2:3 thus tells

us that it is God who created mankind "in his image" and provided for

him an inhabitable and productive earth.28

 

The structure of Genesis 1 shows that God in His creative work

was making the earth habitable for man. He did not leave the

earth in the initial UhbovA UhTo state. This is seen clearly from the fol-

lowing table, which shows the six days of creation can be divided

into two parallel groups with four creative acts each. The last day

in each group, days three and six, have two creative acts each with

the second creative act on these days functioning as the climax of

each. This intentional arrangement shows that making the earth

habitable for man is the purpose of the account by improving on the

earth's initial status as desolate and empty.29

 

desolation and waste and thus unfit for inhabitants (E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah II,

New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1969], 438).

26 See Sailhamer, "Genesis," 27.

27 Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, 156. For a similar under-

standing in postbiblical Jewish literature, see Jacob Newman, The Commentary of

Nahmanides on Genesis Chapters 1-6 (Leiden: Brill, 1960), 33.

28 Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis I and 2, 42-43. Also see Sailhamer,

"Genesis," 24-25.

29 Many commentators have observed this general structure (e.g., U. Cassuto, A

Commentary on the Book of Genesis, trans. Israel Abrahams [Jerusalem: Magnes,

1961], 17; Ross, Creation and Blessing, 104; and Wenham, Genesis 1-15). The present

chart most closely resembles Sarna, Genesis: JPS Torah Commentary, 4.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? 323

 

The Six Days of Creation

Waste Empty

Day Day

1 Light 4 Luminaries

2 Sky 5 Fish and fowl

3 Dry land 6 Land creatures

Vegetation Humankind

(Lowest form of organic life) (Highest form of organic life)

 

This supports the claim that UhbovA UhTo is restricted to the earth's un-

livable and empty condition before these six days. God converted

the uninhabitable land into a land fit for man. He was not seeking to

reverse it from a chaotic state. This is the point Isaiah 45:18 sup-

ports by presenting habitation as the reverse of UhTo. The sequence in

Isaiah 45:18 parallels that of Genesis 1. There is movement from an

earth unfit to live in (Gen. 1:2 = Isa. 45:18a) to the finished product,

to be inhabited by man (Gen. 1:3-31 Isa. 45:18b).

However, what of Waltke's objection that a perfect God would

not make a world that was "formless and void." This charge loses its

force when one considers the creation account itself. For one could

also ask why God did not make the universe perfect with one com-

mand. He surely could have done so. And yet there was a progres-

sion, for He spent six days changing the state described in Genesis 1:2

into the world as it is now known. As Sarna has stated, "That God

should create disorganized matter, only to reduce it to order, presents

no more of a problem than does His taking six days to complete cre-

ation instead of instantaneously producing a perfected universe."30

 

Conclusion

 

This article has analyzed Waltke's treatment of two principal

evangelical interpretations of Genesis 1:1-3-the gap theory and the

initial chaos theory. Waltke's criticism of the gap theory is legiti-

mate, as this theory conflicts with principles of Hebrew grammar.

On the other hand Waltke objected to the initial chaos theory based

on his understanding of the phrases "the heavens and the earth" and

"formless and void." However, as has been shown, these phrases can

be understood differently from the way Waltke understands them, so

that the so-called initial chaos theory should not be dismissed on

the basis of Waltke's objections to it. The subsequent article will cri-

tique the increasingly popular position advocated by Waltke and

others, the precreation chaos theory.

 

30 Sarna, Genesis: The JPS Torah Commentary, 6. Also see Franz Delitzsch, A New

Commentary on Genesis, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1978), 1:80; and Fields,

Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory of Genesis 1:1, 2, 123-24.


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3909 Swiss Ave.

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