Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992) 411-27.

         Copyright © 1992 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

   Genesis 1:1-3:

         Creation or Re-Creation?

       Part 2 (of 2 parts)

 

 

 

        Mark F. Rooker

                             Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew

             Criswell College, Dallas, Texas

 

 

In the preceding article in this series,1 two options regarding the

interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3--the restitution theory and the ini-

tial chaos theory--were examined. The present article examines the

precreation chaos theory, which has been extensively argued and

advocated by Waltke in his work, Creation and Chaos.2 The four

major theses of the precreation chaos view are these: (1) Genesis 1:1

constitutes a summary statement, (2) the Hebrew verb xrABA in Genesis

1:1 should not be understood as creation out of nothing (creatio ex ni-

hilo), (3) Genesis 1:2 describes something that is not good, (4) the Is-

raelite view of creation is distinct among the other cosmogonies of

the ancient Near East.

 

Precreation Chaos Theory

 

The first feature of the precreation chaos view concerns the

grammatical understanding of Genesis 1:1-3. The opening statement,

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," is viewed

as an independent clause3 that functions as a summary statement for

 

1 Mark F. Rooker, "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra

149 (July-September 1992):316-23.

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

Seminary, 1974).

3 The word tywixreB; is thus used in the absolute sense, "in the beginning." See Claus

Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion (London: SPCK,

1984), 94-98; Carl Herbert Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, Baker,

1942), 1:42; C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Pentateuch, 3 vols., Biblical Commentary on the

Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 1:46-47; Walter Eichrodt, "In the

 

411



412  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

the narrative that ends in Genesis 2:3.4 The first line of evidence

Waltke puts forth for this rendering is the parallel structure in the

subsequent Genesis narrative, Genesis 2:4-7.5 Waltke argues that the

narrative account of Genesis 2:4-7 is parallel to the construction of

Genesis 1:1-3 in the following way: (1) Introductory summary state-

ment (Gen. 1:1 = 2:4). (2) Circumstantial clause (1:2 = 2:5-6). (3) Main

clause (1:3 = 2:7).6 In addition, a similar structure is employed in the

introduction to Enuma Elish, an important cosmological text from

Mesopotamia. Waltke concludes, "The evidence therefore, seems

overwhelming that we should construe verse 1 as a broad, general,

declaration of the fact that God created the cosmos, and that the

rest of the chapter explicates this statement. Such a situation re-

flects normal Semitic thought which first states the general proposi-

tion and then specifies the particulars." 7

A second important tenet for the precreation chaos theory con-

cerns the meaning of the verb xrABA "to create," in Genesis 1:1. Waltke

argues that xrABA does not necessarily mean "creation out of nothing"

and that the ancient versions did not understand this to be the mean-

ing of xrABA 8 Thus Waltke concludes, "From our study of the structure

of Rev. [sic] 1:1-3 I would also conclude that bārā’ in verse 1 does not

 

Beginning," in Israel's Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg, ed.

Bernhard W. Anderson and Walter Harrelson (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), 3-

4, 6; and John H. Sailhamer, "Genesis," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1990),20-21. This has been the traditional understanding since the

Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek by the Jews of Alexandria (Harry M. Orlinsky,

Notes on the New Translation of the Torah [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society,

1969], 49). The Greek phrase  ]En a]rxh< at the beginning of the Gospel of John reflects

the Septuagint's translation of tywixreB; from Genesis 1:1. This usage also reinforces the

idea that the absolute beginning is what is in view (Walter Wifall, "God's Accession Year

according to P," Biblica 62 [1981]: 527; and Marc Girard, "La structure heptaparite du

quatrieme evangile," Recherches de Sciences religieuses 5/4 [1975-76]: 351).

4 See Bruce K. Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III: The Initial

Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 221;

affirmed more recently by Waltke in "The Literary Genre of Genesis, Chapter One,"

Crux 27 (1991): 3. Similarly see John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary

on Gen-esis (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), 14; S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (London:

Methuen, 1904), 3; Henri Blocher, In the Beginning, trans. David G. Preston (Downers

Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 63. Brongers, Cassuto, Eichrodt, Gunkel, Procksch,

Schmidt, Strack, von Rad, Westermann, and Zimmerli also hold to the summary view

according to Hasel (Gerhard F. Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical

Look," The Bible Translator 22 [1971]: 164).

5 Waltke also cites the narrative that begins in Genesis 3:1 as having an analogous

grammatical structure, though it lacks the initial summary statement (Waltke, Creation

and Chaos, 32-33).

6 Ibid., 32-34. Wenham holds a similar view (Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word

Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word, 1987], 3,15).

7 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 33.

8 Ibid., 49.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  413

 

include the bringing of the negative state described in verse 2 into ex-

istence. Rather it means that He utilized it as a part of His cre-

ation. In this sense He created it."9 In addition, "no mention is made

anywhere in Scripture that God called the unformed, dark, and wa-

tery state of verse 3 [sic] into existence."10

The third interpretive feature proceeds from and is intrinsically

linked with the immediate discussion of the meaning of xrABA. Because

Waltke dismisses the possibility of creatio ex nihilo in Genesis 1:1,

he says God was not responsible for the state of affairs described in

verse 2. Waltke argues that verse 2 seems to depict something nega-

tive, if not sinister. "The situation of verse 2 is not good, nor is it ever

called good. Moreover, that state of darkness, confusion, and life-

lessness is contrary to the nature of God in whom there is no darkness.

He is called the God of light and life; the God of order."11 A per-

fectly holy God would not be involved in creating or bringing such a

condition into existence. Furthermore other passages such as Psalm

33:6, 9 and Hebrews 11:3 refer to God creating by His word, which in

the Genesis narrative does not begin until verse 3. No mention is

made in Scripture of God's calling the chaotic state described in Gen-

esis 1:2 into existence.12 Deep and darkness "represented a state of

existence contrary to the character of God.”13 Moreover, in the es-

chaton the negative elements of Genesis 1:2, the sea and the dark-

ness, will be removed in the perfect cosmos (Rev. 21:1, 25). This

transformation that will occur at the world's consummation substan-

tiates the fact that the darkness and the sea are less than desirable

and hence not the result of God's creative activity.14 The existence of

this imperfect state in Genesis 1:2, Waltke says, reinforces the view

that verse 2 is subordinate to verse 3 and not to verse 1:

 

It is concluded therefore, that though it is possible to take verse 2 as a cir-

cumstantial clause on syntactical grounds, it is impossible to do so on

 

9 Ibid., 50.

10 Bruce K. Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III: The Initial Chaos

Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory," 221.

11 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 58. Darkness is understood to represent evil and death

(ibid., 52; and Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing [Grand Rapids: Baker, 19881,106,722).

Also see P. W. Heward, "And the Earth Was without Form and Void," Journal of the

Transactions of the Victoria Institute 78 (1946): 16; and John C. L. Gibson, Genesis

(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 29.

12 Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory

and the Precreation Chaos Theory," 221.

13 Bruce K. Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part IV: The Theology of

Genesis 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 339.

14 Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory

and the Precreation Chaos Theory," 220-21.



414  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

philological grounds, and that it seems unlikely it should be so construed

on theological grounds, for it makes God the Creator of disorder, dark-

ness, and deep, a situation not tolerated in the perfect cosmos and never

said to have been called into existence by the Word of God.15

 

The fourth tenet of the precreation chaos theory concerns the

distinctiveness of the Israelite view of creation in contrast with

other ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies. While Waltke maintains

that there is some similarity between the pagan cosmogonies and the

Genesis account of creation, such as the existence of a dark primeval

formless state prior to creation,16 he maintains that the Genesis ac-

count is distinctive in three ways: (1) the belief in one God, (2) the

absence of myth and ritual to influence the gods, and (3) the concept

of God as Creator, which means that the creation is not coexistent

and coeternal. This belief in God as Creator separate and above His

creation "was the essential feature of the Mosaic faith"17 and

"distinguished Israel's faith from all other religions."18 Waltke

comments on the apologetic need to have a word from Moses about

the origin of creation in the ancient Near Eastern setting. "If, then,

the essential difference between the Mosaic faith and the pagan

faith differed precisely in their conceptualization of the relation-

ship of God to the creation, is it conceivable that Moses should have

left the new nation under God without an accurate account of the ori-

gin of the creation?"19

 

Evaluation of the Precreation Chaos Theory

 

"GENESIS 1:1 IS A SUMMARY STATEMENT”

In relation to the first line of evidence for viewing Genesis 1:1 as

a summary statement, it should be noted that while the correspon-

dence between 1:1-3 and 2:4-7 is indeed similar, it is not exact. Not

only is the relationship and correspondence between 2:4b and 2:7 dif-

ferent from the relationship and correspondence between 1:1 and 1:3,

but also the lengthy circumstantial clauses in Genesis 2:4b-6 indicate

that the styles of the two narratives are distinct.20 Furthermore

Waltke argues that beginning a narrative with a summary statement

 

15 Ibid., 221.

16 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 44.

17 Ibid., 51.

18 Ibid., 49.

19 Ibid., 43.

20 Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 97; Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical

Look," 161; and Sailhamer, "Genesis," 21.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  415

 

and then filling in the details is commonplace in Semitic thought.

He does not, however, supply references to support this generaliza-

tion. Beginning a narrative with a summary statement is, in any

case, a literary device that is evident in Indo-European literature as

well as in literature stemming from Semitic authors.21 Pearson sum-

marizes the evidence against the view, that Genesis 1:1 should be

taken as a summary.

The first verse of Gen 1 cannot be regarded with Buckland and Chalmers

as a mere heading of a whole selection, nor with Dods and Bush as a sum-

mary statement, but forms an integral part of the narrative, for: (1) It has

the form of narrative, not of superscription. (2) The conjunctive particle

connects the second verse with it; which could not be if it were a heading.

No historical narrative begins with "and" (vs. 2). The "and" in Ex. 1:1 in-

dicates that the second book of Moses is a continuation of the first. (3)

The very next verse speaks of the earth as already in existence, and there-

fore its creation must be recorded in the first verse. (4) In the first verse the

heavens take the precedence of the earth, but in the following verses all

things, even sun, moon, and stars seem to be appendages to the earth. Thus

if it were a heading it would not correspond with the narrative.... the

above evidence supports the view that the first verse forms a part of the

narrative. The first verse of Genesis records the creation of the universe

in its essential form. In v. 2, the writer describes the earth as it was when

God's creative activity had brought its material into being, but this forma-

tive activity had not yet begun.22

In the summary-statement view of Genesis 1:1, grammatical

structure is intricately connected to the interpretation of the phrases

"heavens and earth" (v. 2) as the completed heavens and earth and

"formless and void" as the antithesis of creation. In the previous ar-

ticle23 these interpretations were shown to be open to serious ques-

tion. In addition Waltke asserts that the subordination of Genesis

1:2 to verse 3 should not be viewed as an anomaly, arguing that Young

listed several illustrations of the circumstantial clause preceding

the main verb.24 This evidence is problematic, however, as none of

 

21 Barr's caveat against formulating conclusions about thought patterns based on lan-

guage structure may be in order here. See James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961).

22 Anton Pearson, "An Exegetical Study of Genesis 1:1-3," Bethel Seminary Quarterly 2

(1953): 20-21. Hasel argues that the waw conjunction that begins Genesis 1:2 is an ar-

gument against understanding verse 1 as a summary statement. The importance of the

copulative waw of verse 2a is given its full due by linking verse 1 and verse 2 closer to-

gether than is possible with the position which considers verse 1 as merely a summary

introduction expressing the fact that God is Creator of heaven and earth (Hasel,

"Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look," 165). Also see Derek Kidner, Gen-

esis: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (London:

Tyndale; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1967), 44.

23 Rooker, "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? Part 1."

24 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 33. In this reference and in "The Creation Account in

Genesis 1:1-3, Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,"



416  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

the examples cited has the same structure as Genesis 2:2-3, that is, a

waw disjunctive clause followed by waw consecutive prefixed form.25

On the other hand it seems that such passages as Judges 8:11 and

Jonah 3:3 are more helpful parallels to the grammatical structure re-

flected in Genesis 1:1-2, where a finite verb is followed by a waw

disjunctive clause containing the verb hyAhA. This clause qualifies a

term in the immediately preceding independent clause. The inde-

pendent clause makes a statement and the following circumstantial

clause describes parenthetically an element in the main clause. This

would confirm the traditional interpretation that verse 1 contains

the main independent clause, with Genesis 1:2 consisting of three

subordinate circumstantial clauses describing what the just-men-

tioned earth looked like after it was created.

 

xrABA IN GENESIS 1:1 IS NOT CREATIO EX NIHILO"

The second important feature of the precreation chaos theory is

the assertion that the Hebrew root xrABA, "to create," should not be un-

derstood as creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) in Genesis 1:1.

This semantic understanding is critical for the precreation chaos

theory, since it maintains that what is described in Genesis 1 is not

the original creation but rather a re-creation of the raw material

that exists in Genesis 1:2.

The cognate of the Hebrew root xrABA is rare in the Semitic cognate

languages, and thus its meaning in the Old Testament must be deter-

mined from its usage in the Old Testament corpus.26 Finley has re-

cently provided a thorough examination of the usage and meaning of

the term.27

The verb xrABA is applied to the creation of a nation, to righteousness, to re-

generation, and to praise and joy.... Nearly two-thirds of the instances of

xrABA refer to physical creation. . . . God's original creation encompassed all

of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1).... Fully one-third of all the citations of

physical creation refer to the creation of man (including Gen. 1:27; 5:1-2;

6:7; Deut. 4:32; Ps. 89:47 [Heb. 48]; Eccles. 12:1; Isa. 45:12.... In the Gene-

sis 1 account of creation xrABA is used only five times, and of these occur-

rences three are in a single verse and refer to the creation of man (1:27)....

The verb is also used of the creation of the great sea monsters (Gen. 1:21).

 

227, Waltke erroneously states that the list of examples of this grammatical phe-

nomenon is in E. J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and

Reformed, 1964), 15. The references are actually found on page 9, n. 15.

25 The passages Young lists are Genesis 38:25; Numbers 12:14; Joshua 2:18; 1 Samuel

9:11; 1 Kings 14:17; 2 Kings 2:23; 6:5,26; 9:25; Job 1:16; and Isaiah 37:38 (ibid., 9).

26 It may be that the lack of cognates with this root in other Semitic languages con-

firms the term's uniqueness. Other Hebrew words for "create" have broader cognate evidence.

27 Thomas J. Finley, "Dimensions of the Hebrew Word for 'Create' (xrABA)," Bibliotheca

Sacra 148 (October-December 1991): 409-23.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  417

 

The Israelites greatly feared these creatures, and it was reassuring to

know that their God had created them and is Lord over them.28

In the examination of the occurrences of this verb some salient

observations emerge. First, the only subject of the verb in the Hebrew

Bible is God. Whereas God may be the subject for the semantic syn-

onyms of xrABA, these synonyms have other subjects (creatures) in addi-

tion to God .29 "A number of synonyms, such as 'make,' 'form,' or

'build,' are used of creation by God, but xrABA is the only term for which

God is the only possible subject."30 Usage supports the contention

that the Hebrew verb xrABA is the distinct word for creation.

The Hebrew stem b-r-' is used in the Bible exclusively of divine creativity.

It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends

solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human ca-

pacity to reproduce. The verb always refers to the completed product,

never to the material of which it is made.31

Furthermore since the verb never occurs with the object of the

material, and since the primary emphasis of the word is on the nov-

elty of the created object, "the word lends itself well to the concept

of creation ex nihilo."32 This idea is reinforced by the fact that even

when the context clearly indicates that what is being created in-

volves preexisting material, that material will not be mentioned in

the same sentence with xrABA.33 Since this Hebrew verb has a semantic

 

28 Ibid., 411-12. See also Ross, Creation and Blessing, 725-28, and Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 14.

29 As Ross states, "Humans may make ['asa], form [yasar], or build [bana]; to the He-

brew, however, God creates" (Creation and Blessing, 105-6).

30 Finley, "Dimensions of the Hebrew Word for 'Create' (xrABA)," 409.

31 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish

Publication Society, 1989), 5. See also Julian Morgenstern, "The Sources of the Creation

Story in Genesis 1:1-2:4," American Journal of Semitic Languages 36 (1920): 201; Finley,

"Dimensions of the Hebrew Word for 'Create' (xrABA)," 409; Weston W. Fields, Unformed

and Unfilled (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 54-55; Keil and Delitzsch, "Genesis," 47;

Edward J. Young, "The Relation of the First Verse of Genesis One to Verses Two and

Three," Westminster Theological Journal 21 (1959): 138-39.

32 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v. " xrABA " by Thomas E. McComiskey, 127.

Hasel lists Aalders, Childs, Henton Davies, Heidel, Kidner, Konig, Maly, Ridderbos,

Wellhausen, and Young as those who maintain that Genesis 1:1 refers to creatio ex nihilo

(Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look," 163). See also Walter

Eichrodt, "In the Beginning," 10; and Blocher, In the Beginning, 63. Ross acknowledges

that the verb may have this connotation (Creation and Blessing, 724). For evidence of

early Jewish scholars who subscribed to creatio ex nihilo, see Emil G. Hirsch, "Creation,"

in The Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 vols., 4:336; and Frances Young, "'Creatio ex Nihilo': A

Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation," Scottish Journal of

Theology 44 (1991):141 for Gamaliel II's comment in Midrash Genesis Rabbah.

33 Passages such as Genesis 1:27 and Isaiah 45::7 would be examples of the usage not

meaning creatio ex nihilo. These were noted by the medieval Hebrew exegete Ibn Ezra.

See Pearson, "An Exegetical Study of Genesis 1:1-3," 17.



418  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

range, as do most other biblical Hebrew verbs, the context of any par-

ticular usage becomes determinative for meaning.34 In Genesis 1

there is no explicit connection of this creative activity with any pre-

existing materials.35 As Leupold aptly states, "When no existing

material is mentioned as to be worked over, no such material is im-

plied."36 Thus this lexeme is distinct and is the best lexical choice to

express the unprecedented concept of creatio ex nihilo.37 As the Jew-

ish exegete Nahmanides wrote, "We have in our holy language no

other term for 'the bringing forth of something from nothing' but

bara."38 Waltke's argument that the verb does not inherently mean

creatio ex nihilo is besides the point, as it is doubtful that any word

in any language does.39 The point is that while this is not the inher-

ent meaning of this word or of any word, for that matter, xrABA would

be the best candidate from the semantic pool of Hebrew verbs for expressing

a creation that is unprecedented, namely, creatio ex nihilo. Sarna nicely

summarizes the significance of the use of the verb xrABA in Genesis 1:1 as

meaning creatio ex nihilo in the larger cultural context of the ancient Near East.

 

Precisely because of the indispensable importance of preexisting matter in

the pagan cosmologies, the very absence of such mention here is highly sig-

nificant. This conclusion is reinforced by the idea of creation by divine

 

34 Both Kidner and Ross specifically mention the importance of context for determin-

ing the meaning of xrABA for an individual passage (Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and

Commentary, 44; Ross, Creation and Blessing, 728).

35 Finley, "Dimensions of the Hebrew Word for 'Create' (xrABA),”410. This would be

true even if one agreed with Waltke and understood verse 1 to be a summary state-

ment. If the verse functions in this manner, it would be logically separated from its

context in that it referred in a general way to the entire process of Genesis 1. In addition

in Waltke's view Genesis 1:2 is subordinated to verse 3, leaving verse 1 as an independent

clause, which does not contain any reference to materials being used with a xrABA creation.

36 Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 40-41.

37 John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John

King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 70. Also see Martin Luther, The Creation: A Commentary on the

First Five Chapters of the Book of Genesis, trans. Henry Cole (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858),

31.

38 Jacob Newman, The Commentary of Nahmanides on Genesis Chapters 1-6 (Leiden: Brill,

1960), 33. Similarly, Young, 'The Relation of the First Verse of Genesis One to Verses

Two and Three," 139. Winden argues that understanding Genesis 1:1 as referring to

creatio ex nihilo was considered the orthodox understanding of the verse by the early

church fathers (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], 372-73).

39 See George Bush, Notes on Genesis, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1976),1:26-

27. Hence Waltke's objection that the ancient versions did not understand the verb in

this way is undermined. Furthermore Waltke's statement that other Hebrew verbs may

describe creatio ex nihilo does not diminish the fact that xrABA as the distinctive verb for

creation, having God as its only subject, also may dearly have this nuance (Waltke,

'The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1," 336-37).



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  419

 

fiat without reference to any inert matter being present. Also, the repeated

biblical emphasis upon God as exclusive Creator would seem to rule out

the possibility of preexistent matter. Finally, if bara' is used only of God's

creation, it must be essentially distinct from human creation. The ultimate

distinction would be creatio ex nihilo, which has no human parallel and is

thus utterly beyond all human comprehension. 40

Also the contextual joining of the verb xrABA, "to create," with the

preceding phrase tywixreB;, "in the beginning," in the alliterative

phrase xrABA tywixreB; (berēš’it  bārā') clarifies the connotation of each

and thus helps elucidate the meaning of xrABA.

The word "beginning" is, of course, a relative term. It must imply the begin-

ning of something. On that account, some say it refers only to the beginning

of human history that we see unfolded round about us. But the content of

the term is given to us by the word bara', create, and vice versa. This is a

beginning that is characterized by creation, and this is a creation that is

characterized by the beginning. Here it means "the absolute beginning."...

It refers to the absolute beginning, just as John, beginning his Gospel, takes

over the phrase "in the beginning" and refers it to the absolute beginning. 41

As noted, Waltke avoids attributing the meaning of creatio ex

nihilo to xrABA in Genesis 1. Thus God's role as Creator in that chapter

refers only to His reshaping preexisting matter. And yet if Moses

wanted to refer to God as the Reshaper of existing matter, there were

better lexical choices at his disposal to convey this idea. It does not

seem that he would want to employ the distinctive verb for God's

creative activity, the verb xrABA. In his attempt to play down the dis-

tinctiveness of the verb xrABA Waltke mentions that other verbs that

are not as distinctive as xrABA may refer to creation out of nothing.42 It

almost seems that what Waltke really wants to say about the dis-

tinctiveness of xrABA is that it never means creation out of nothing.43

The use of xrABA without any mention of preexisting matter in Genesis

1:1 conveys something stronger than Waltke's interpretation of the verse.44

 

40 Sarna, Genesis, 5. Creatio ex nihilo was also distinct from Greek philosophy. See

especially Plutarch's denial of creatio ex nihilo (John Dillon, The Middle Platonists

[London: Duckworth, 1977], 207, cited by Young, "'Creatio Ex Nihilo': A Context for

the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation," 139-40). See also Winden, "The

Early Christian Exegesis of 'Heaven and Earth' in Genesis 1,1," 372-73.

41 Young, In the Beginning, 24-25.

42 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 50.

43 Westermann's caveat that "we should be careful of reading too much into the

word; nor is it correct to read creatio ex nihilo out of the word" may be appropriate here

(Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 100).

44 Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1:: A Critical Look," 165. The occurrence of

the verb following the phrase "in the beginning" gave rise to the Jewish and Christian

traditions of creatio ex nihilo (Wifall, "God's Accession Year according to P," 527).



420  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

"GENESIS 1:2 IS NEGATIVE"

The precreation chaos theory advocated by Waltke assumes

that the chaotic state of Genesis 1:2 was in existence before God be-

gan His creative activity in Genesis 1:3.45 The contention that the

state described in verse 2 is negative and consequently not the result

of the activity of God was addressed in the previous article in con-

nection with the phrase UhbovA UhTo ("formless and empty"). There it

was shown that the phrase UhbovA UhTo need not be understood as an or-

derless chaos as Waltke proposed but rather that the earth was not

yet ready to be inhabited by mankind.46 As Tsumura stated, "There

is nothing in this passage that would suggest a chaotic state of the

earth which is opposed to and precedes creation."47

But what of Waltke's objection that the darkness over the face

of the deep also suggests the antithesis of creation and thus was not

brought into existence by God? The significance of this occurrence of

darkness is conveyed more forcefully by Unger.  

Of special importance in the seven-day account of creation is the calling

forth of light upon the earth about to be renewed. Sin had steeped it in

disorder and darkness. God's active movement upon it in recreation in-

volved banishing the disorder and dissipating the darkness.... Only

when sin came, darkness resulted. Darkness, therefore, represents sin,

that which is contrary to God's glory and holiness (1 John 1:6).48

Waltke maintains that the presence of the uncreated state with

darkness over the deep in Genesis 1:2 is a mystery, since the "Bible

 

45 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 19. Similarly, Hershel Shanks, "How the Bible Begins,"

Judaism 21 (1972): 58, n. 2. In reference to this assumption Waltke states that chaos oc-

curred before the original creation. What does he mean by original here? If matter is al-

ready in existence, then subsequent creation should not be viewed as original. The

same applies to his use of the term "creation." He speaks of preexisting matter in exis-

tence before God began to work in Genesis 1 and yet he calls the work that of creation.

Similarly, in discussing Isaiah 45:18 Waltke states, "The Creator did not leave His job

half-finished. He perfected the creation, and then He established it. He did not end up

with chaos as Isaiah noted" (Creation and Chaos, 60). When Waltke says that God "did

not leave His job unfinished," he seems to be arguing that God was involved in bringing

the state described in Genesis 1:2 into existence. On the other hand, elsewhere he indi-

cates that the presence of the state described in verse 2 is a mystery, as the Bible never

says that God brought the unformed state, the darkness, and the deep into existence by

His word (Creation and Chaos, p. 52).

46 Rooker, "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? Part 1," 320-22. To the references

cited add John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972),123-24.

47 David Toshio Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic In-

vestigation, JSOT Supplement Series 83 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989),33-34.

48 Merril F. Unger, "Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation," Bibliotheca Sacra 115

(1958): 30. Payne suggests that if the author had desired to make a statement about the

darkness expressing evil, the stronger word for darkness would be used. The darkness is

j`w,Ho, not the stronger synonym lp,rAfE (D. F. Payne, "Approaches to Genesis i 2," Transac-

tions 23 [1969-70]: 67.



    Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  421

 

never says that God brought these into existence by His word."49

The problems that arise with this view are more numerous and

difficult than the theological problem its advocates are attempting

to alleviate. First, the immediate question arises, To what should

be ascribed the existence of the darkness over the face of the deep?50

Who made the darkness and the deep if they were not made by God?

The fact is noteworthy that God named the darkness in Genesis 1

without the least indication that there was something undesirable

about its existence.

God gives a name to the darkness, just as he does to the light. Both are

therefore good and well-pleasing to him; both are created, although the

express creation of the darkness, as of the other objects in verse two, is

not stated, and both serve his purpose of forming the day.51

Later in the same article Young addresses the theological tension

felt by Waltke.

In the nature of the case darkness is often suited to symbolize affliction

and death. Here, however, the darkness is merely one characteristic of the

unformed earth. Man cannot live in darkness, and the first requisite step

in making the earth habitable is the removal of darkness. This elementary

fact must be recognized before we make any attempt to discover the theo-

logical significance of darkness. And it is well also to note that darkness

is recognized in this chapter as a positive good for man. Whatever be the

precise connotation of the br,f, of each day, it certainly included darkness,

and that darkness was for man's good. 52

Waltke states that the darkness and the deep were not brought into

existence by God's word, and yet Isaiah 45:7 states that God created

the darkness. In this verse j`w,Ho, the same word used for darkness in

Genesis 1:2, is said to have been created (xrABA) by God.53

 

49 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 52.

50 Wiseman, as quoted by Bruce, suggests that this position leads to an inevitable com-

parison with pagan views (F. F. Bruce, "Arid the Earth Was without Form and Void,"

Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 78 [1946]: 26). Westermann notes that

the opposition between darkness and creation is widespread in the cosmogonies and

creation stories of the world (Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 104). The connection between

the Enuma Elish account of creation because of the similarity between the Hebrew word

xxxxx ("deep") and the name of the goddess Tiamat is not etymologically defensible (see

Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 105; and Ross, Creation and Blessing, 107).

51 Edward J. Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2," Westminster Theological Journal

23 (1960-61):157, n. 114.

52 Ibid., 170-71, n. 33. Waltke does acknowledge that the darkness from this context

must later be viewed as good. "Though not called 'good' at first, the darkness and deep

were called 'good' later when they became part of the cosmos" (Waltke, "The Creation

Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1," 338-39). The explanatory

phrase, "became part of the cosmos," is difficult to understand, and it should be admit-

ted there is no explicit support to this effect from the context.

53 Wiseman, "And the Earth Was without Form and Void," 26.



422  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

To disassociate the physical darkness mentioned in Genesis 1:2

from God because darkness came to symbolize evil and sin is to con-

fuse the symbol with the thing symbolized. It is like saying yeast is

evil because it came to represent spiritual evil.54 The fact that a

physical reality is used to represent something spiritual does not

mean that every time this physical reality is mentioned, it must be

representing that spiritual entity. Those who claim that darkness in

Genesis 1:2 is evil have confused the spiritual symbol as used else-

where with the physical reality in this passage.55

In addition the syntactical structure of verse 2 would seem to ar-

gue against understanding the verse in a negative tone. The three

clauses in the verse each begin with a waw followed by a noun that

functions as the subject of the clause. All the clauses appear to be co-

ordinate. Waltke would not view the last phrase describing the

Spirit of God hovering over the waters in a negative sense, and yet

he does not offer an explanation for not treating all the clauses in

verse 2 as parallel. As Keil and Delitzsch state, "The three state-

ments in our verse are parallel; the substantive and participial con-

struction of the second and third clauses rests upon the htyhv of the

first. All three describe the condition of the earth immediately af-

ter the creation of the universe."56 The presence of darkness illus-

trates, as does the preceding clause, "formless and empty,"57 that

the earth was still not ready to be inhabited by man.

As the first word in this clause j`w,Ho is emphasized, it stands as a parallel

to Cr,xAhA in the previous clause. There are thus three principal subjects of

the verse: the earth, darkness and the Spirit of God. The second clause in

reality gives further support to the first. Man could not have lived upon

the earth, for it was dark and covered by water.58

Waltke's argument that the state in Genesis 1:2 was not created by

God because passages like Psalm 33:6, 9 and Hebrews 11:3 state that

God created everything by His word is not convincing.59 Indeed, it

should be observed that these passages do not in any way suggest

that the universe was created in two distinct stages, a creation and

 

54 Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, 132-33.

55 Whitcomb, The Early Earth, 125--27.

56 Keil and DelitzschPentateuch, 1:49. Also see Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 102, 106,

and Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, 83-84. Since the three clauses are coordinate,

Westermann and Schmidt would argue that they should be viewed in the same light,

either positively or negatively. See Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 17, and Payne, "Approaches

to Genesis i. 2," 66.

57 Rooker, "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation? Part 1," 320-23.

58 Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2," 170.

59 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 27-28.





      Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  423

 

and a re-creation, as Waltke must maintain.60 Furthermore where is

the evidence in these passages for the presence of preexisting matter

before the re-creation of Genesis 1:3?

Verse 2 should be taken as a positive description, not a negative

one.61 And though the earth was not yet suitable for man to inhabit,

"there is no reason, so far as one can tell from reading the first chap-

ter of Genesis, why God might not have pronounced the judgment,

'very good,' over the condition described in the second verse.”62

According to the traditional interpretation, as noted in the pre-

vious article, however, Genesis 1:2 states the condition of the earth

as it was when it was first created until God began to form it into the

present world.63

 

“THE ISRAELITE VIEW OF CREATION IS DISTINCT”

In stressing the importance and significance of creation in Is-

raelite theology Waltke wants to distinguish the Old Testament

concept of creation from the creation mythologies of the ancient Near

East. Because other accounts explaining the origin of the world were

prevalent and would probably have been known to the Israelites,

Waltke states that it would have been "inconceivable that Moses

should have left the new nation under God without an accurate ac-

count of the origin of creation."64 The essential difference between

the pagan ideas and the Mosaic revelation is in the

"conceptualization of the relationship of God to creation."65 Numer-

ous scholars have noted, for example, that the other cosmogonies of

the ancient Near East have nothing so profound as the opening

statement of Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens

and the earth."66 But why is this so unique? Part of the answer

 

60 Wiseman, cited in Bruce, "And the Earth Was without Form and Void," 26.

61 Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 94,102; Young, 'The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2,"170;

Sailhamer, "Genesis," 24; and Augustine who along with other ancient scholars under-

stood the darkness in Genesis 1:1 as a reference to heaven (Winden, 'The Early Chris-

tian Exegesis of 'Heaven and Earth' in Genesis 1,1," 378).

62 Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2," 174. Childs and Hasel suggest that the

verse must be viewed in a negative light if one argues that Genesis 1:1 is merely a sum-

mary statement (Bervard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament [Naperville, IL:

Allenson, 1960], 39, and Hasel, "Recent Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look,"

165). Childs also hints at the need to play down the significance of xrABA if one views

Genesis 1:2 as indicating something negative (ibid., 40).

63 Young, 'The Relation of the First Verse of Genesis One to Verses Two and Three,"

144 and n. 20.

64 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 43.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid., 31. Also see Hasel, "Recent' Translations of Genesis 1:1: A Critical Look," 162-

63, and Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 97.



424  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

surely lies in the fact that these mythologies all assume preexisting

matter when the god(s) begin to create. In other words the uniqueness

of the phrase "in the beginning" is not primarily in its distinctive-

ness literarily but in the fact that no other creation account in the an-

cient Near East described the absolute beginning of creation when

nothing else existed. Though Waltke would deny the eternality of

matter, he opens the door to the idea of preexisting matter in Genesis

1 by saying the creation account in Genesis 1 assumes that physical

existence is present at "the beginning."67 Since Waltke does not be-

lieve that Genesis 1 refers to the initial creation before the existence

of matter, his statement about the distinctiveness of Israel's view

loses force, even though God as Creator is fundamental to the Is-

raelite faith.68

What then is distinctive about the meaning of the Mosaic reve-

lation of creation according to Waltke's interpretation of the pas-

sage? According to Waltke the account begins with a watery chaos

already in existence, which God overcomes.69 This is virtually iden-

tical to the sequence of events in the Babylonian Enuma Elish.70 The

 

67 Waltke, however, does speak of the Creator bringing the universe into existence by

His command in Genesis 1 (Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part IV:

The Theology of Genesis 1," 338). It is unclear what Waltke means by existence here,

since the precreation chaos theory of Genesis 1 describes God's transforming activity of

the already existing physical state described in Genesis 1:2. Similarly in contrasting the

purpose of Psalm 104 with Genesis 1, he states that Genesis refers to "the origin of the

creation" ("The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part V: The Theology of Genesis 1-

Continued," 35). Yet Genesis 1 does not refer to the original creation in the same sense

as Psalm 33 and Hebrews 11, according to Waltke's interpretation.

68 Gabrini has well noted the inevitable conclusions that must be drawn, particularly

in regard to the existence of matter, by those who adhere to the translation "in the

beginning." He writes, "At this point, the current interpretation of the first sentence of

Genesis requires some consideration. When we translate 'In the beginning God created

the heaven and the earth,' we meet two difficulties. First of all, we lend the Jewish

writer the Christian conception of creation ex nihilo: such conception is totally missing

among the peoples of the ancient Orient, where creation by gods always displays itself

in a shapeless but existing world, so that creation ex nihilo in Genesis would appear truly

baffling. In the second place, if we admit that God created the world ex nihilo (heaven

and earth are two complementary parts to indicate the whole), then we are obliged to

admit also that the creation took place in two different moments. Firstly, God created

the world in the darkness; secondly, he began to create forms" (Giovanni Gabrini, "The

Creation of Light in the First Chapter of Genesis," in Proceedings of the Fifth World

Congress of Jewish Studies, ed. Pinchas Peli (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies,

1969], 1:2).

     The existence of matter at the beginning of creation could easily be understood as

the principle of evil coexisting with God from eternity, hence denying the Judeo-

Christian concept of God (Winden, The Early Christian Exegesis of 'Heaven and Earth'

in Genesis 1,1," 372-73).

69 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 58. Waltke does maintain that one of the purposes of

the Mosaic account is a polemic against the myths of Israel's environment (Waltke,

'The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1," 328).

70 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 45.



        Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  425

 

creative activity of God described in Genesis 1 is limited to a sculp-

turing or reshaping of material that is chaotic and unorganized.

In distinguishing Israel's view of creation from the creation ac-

counts of the ancient Near East, Waltke states, "The faith that God

was the Creator of heaven and earth and not coexistent and coeternal

with the creation distinguished Israel's faith from all other reli-

gions."71 This theological deduction, however, cannot come from

Genesis 1, according to the precreation chaos position. Such a credo

could only result from a belief in creatio ex nihilo, a doctrine Waltke

denies the Israelite consciousness until several hundred years later.

While the degree of distinctiveness should not be a controlling

exegetical grid to impose on a passage (the interpreter should objec-

tively investigate what the text is saying in its historical and liter-

ary context), it is fair to bring out that the traditional view of cre-

ation is more distinctive in the environment of the ancient Near East

than is Waltke's precreation chaos theory. The key difference be-

tween pagan cosmogonies and Genesis 1 is creatio ex nihilo and the

absence of preexisting matter.72 Waltke can claim neither fact for

Genesis 1, though he views Genesis 1 as the most significant text re-

garding the Israelite theology of creation.73 Jacob brings into focus

more clearly the distinctiveness of the Israelite account of creation in

Genesis 1.

It is the first great achievement of the Bible to present a divine creation

from nothing in contrast to evolution or formation from a material already

in existence. Israel's religious genius expresses this idea with monumental

brevity. In all other creation epics the world originates from a primeval

matter which existed before. No other religion or philosophy dared to

take this last step. Through it God is not simply the architect, but the abso-

lute master of the universe. No sentence could be better fitted for the open-

ing of the Book of Books. Only an all pervading conviction of God's abso-

lute power could have produced it. 74

 

Conclusion

 

In this article the four primary features of the precreation chaos

theory were examined. It was concluded that these four precepts

pose philological as well as theological difficulties. The conclusion

 

71 Ibid., 49.

72 Furthermore, Fields observes that Waltke had not considered the impact of passages

such as Exodus 20:11; 31:17; and Nehemiah 9:6, which fit all that exists in the universe

within the six days of creation (Unformed and Unfilled, 128, n. 43).

73 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 19.

74 Benno Jacob, The First Book of the Bible: Genesis, Interpreted by B. Jacob (New York:

KTAV, 1974), 1.



426  Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1992

 

should be drawn, therefore, that the traditional view,75 defended in

the previous article in this two-part series, is the most satisfactory

position regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3. According to

this position, the Bible speaks with one voice about the creation of

the universe. Genesis 1:1-3 describes the same events as other pas-

sages such as Psalm 33:6, 9; Romans 4:17; and Hebrews 11:3, and they

describe creatio ex nihilo.76 This understanding of Genesis 1:1-3 pre-

vailed among the early Jewish and Christian interpreters.77 Genesis

1:2 describes the initial stage of what God created, the state He then

transformed (vv. 3-31) to make the earth into a place that could be

inhabited by man.

The first article in this series began by acknowledging that the

question of origins is a question repeated in history and in human

experience. This truth was graphically illustrated after NASA'S

Cosmic Background Explorer satellite-COBE-shot back pictures of

the most distant objects scientists have ever discovered. These

pictures were alleged to reveal evidence of how the universe began.78

Ted Koppel of "ABC News Nightline" questioned Robert Kirshner,

chairman of Harvard University's department of astronomy on the

significance of this discovery by asking a question about origins.

 

Ted Koppel: The big bang theory, to what limited degree I under-

stand it, calls for something infinitesimally small, so small that it

cannot be measured to have exploded into the universe as we now

find it, in other words, something tiny exploded into the reality of

everything large that exists in the universe today. Now, how does

that work?

 

Robert Kirshner: Well, you're trying to answer the hardest part at

the beginning. It might be easier to think about some of the observa-

tional facts and see why the big bang is such a simple explanation for

them. The thing that we see today is a universe which is expanding,

 

75 Waltke labeled the view as the initial chaos view, but because of the uncertainty of

what is meant by chaos this title is not so useful as referring to the position simply as the

traditional one. See Young, "The Relation of the First Verse of Genesis One to Verses

Two and Three," 145. Indeed, Waltke's recent assertion that Genesis 1:2 depicts an

earth that was uninhabitable and uninhabited may indicate a shift in his own thinking

about the meaning of the chaos. See "The Literary Genre of Genesis, Chapter One," 4.

76 Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 1:40-41; Sarna, Genesis, 6; and Kidner, Genesis: An

Introduction and Commentary, 43.

77 For references in apocryphal literature as well as early Jewish interpreters and

church fathers, see Wifall, "God's Accession Year according to P," 527; Young, "'Creatio

Ex Nihilo': A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation," 145;

Pearson, "An Exegetical Study of Genesis 1:1-3," 24-26; and Fields, Unformed and Unfilled,

26.

78 See Michael D. Lemonick, "Echoes of the Big Bang," Time, May 4, 1992, 62-63; and

"ABC News Nightline," transcript 2850, April 24,1992, 1.



Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?  427

 

galaxies getting farther from one another, and if you imagine what

that was like in the past, it would be a picture in which the galaxies

were getting closer to one another. And if you take that picture far

enough back, and we think the time scale is about 15 billion years,

far enough back, then you get to a state where the universe is much

hotter and denser than it is today. That's the thing we're talking

about when we talked about the big bang. The details of exactly the

structure of space and time at that-in that setting are a little

tricky, but the basic picture is that the universe that we see today is

very old, and had come from a state which was very different than

we see around us today.79

 

At the conclusion of the program Koppel, unsatisfied with the pre-

vious evasion to the essential question, returned the central issue of

the origin of the universe:

 

Ted Koppel: And in the 40 or 50 seconds that we have left, Professor

Kirshner, you want to try another crack at that first question, how

we get everything out of next to nothing?

 

Dr. Kirshner: No, I don't think that's the question I really want to

answer. That's the one I want to evade....80

 

The question that is asked by both ancient and modern man

alike--the question that cannot be ignored--is answered adequately

only from the revelation of Scripture. God created all that exists

and He created out of nothing.

The Bible is unified on this issue. God is the Creator who ex-

isted before all His creation and who brought forth from nothing all

that exists. The only biblical event that might rightly be called a

re-creation begins with the experience of the new birth and is con-

summated in the realization of the new heavens and the new earth

(Rev. 21:1-2). This work from beginning to end is brought about by

the One who was there "in the beginning," who creates and brings

light and life through the redemption victoriously proclaimed on

the first day of the week.81

 

79 Ibid., 2.

80 Ibid., 4.

81 John 1:1-5; 8:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 28:1. Jesus in this sense inaugurated a

"new Genesis." See Girard, "La structure heptaparite du quatrième évangile," 357. For

the necessary theological juxtaposition of creation and redemption, see Willem A.

VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 86, 226-

27, and Young, "'Creatio Ex Nihilo': A Context for the Emergence of the Christian

Doctrine of Creation," 140.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu