There are some points to make before we go in depth in our study. First, this is not going to be a grand apologetic against evolution. I say that in I am not going to be discussing the scientific flaws of the theory of evolution v. the creation account. That’s a discussion for another post. What I want to do with this is see what the text actually is telling us, along with some discussion on the many views of the Creation account. Big note must be said here – the genre of Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is not poetry. It does not contain anything that relates to Hebrew poetry. It was written as narrative and written by the author to his audience intended to be understood as it stands.
“In the beginning , God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void , and darkness was over the face of the deep . And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters .” (Gen 1:1-2, ESV)
The first word in verse 1 that the ESV, as other translations, conveys as “In the beginning” is the Hebrew re’shiyth, and in this case it is missing a definite article. This has led many to translate, or at least state that it should be translated, the verse as a dependent clause of verse 2 or verse 3 (a lot of debate on which one it should be). It is believed that a lack of a definite article makes this a construct state and not an absolute state. However, the same word can be found elsewhere, as in Isaiah 46:10, without a definite article and the context clearly shows that it is in an absolute state. Similarly, the use of an associated word, “r’sh”, in Proverbs 8:23 gives another example of the word in an absolute state without a definite article. This gives a strong reason to believe that re’shiyth here in Genesis 1:1 should be taken as an absolute state, and therefore verse 1 can be understood as an independent clause that stands on its own.
Sometimes, this beginning of Genesis is seen to parallel the Ancient Near Eastern mythologies that were from the same time period (such as Enuma Elish) which does begin with a dependent clause, but this is weak as the parallels of the two writings are almost nonexistent. (Also, if the author were trying to depose the mythologies from around the time period of Moses, why would he duplicate them? The original audience did not need an exposition on the superiority of God compared to the gods worshipped by surrounding Babylon and Egypt – they witnessed it first hand when Moses led them out of Egypt through miracles upon miracles performed in front of their very eyes. It does not hold to logic that Moses’ intent was an apologetic and not simply a historical narrative of how things came to be.)
The verb bara in this verse also gives a weight that God indeed created something from nothing – or ex nihilo. Gerard Von Rad states “It is correct to say that the verb bara’, ‘create’, contains the idea both of complete effortlessness and creation ex nihilo, since it is never connected with any statement of the material.” (Genesis: A Commentary, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961) pg. 49). In other words, the verb bara is not acted upon something already in existence – it is not grammatically linked to anything – just simply God created and then something existed.
Because God created something out of nothing, the idea that verse 2 is describing something that existed prior to God’s “fashioning” of it falls flat. The formless, empty earth did not exist and then God acted on it. It came to exist after God created it from nothing.
Verse 2 begins with a waw disjunctive and noun clause which links it to verse 1 as a description of what was brought into existence. The waw (and) at the beginning of verse 2 (not translated in the ESV version, and the NIV translates it as “Now”) is often interpreted as a waw consecutive – which would make it sequential. However, to be consecutive it would have to be attached to the verb “was”, but it isn’t. It’s attached to the noun “earth” which makes it disjunctive and therefore descriptive. (An example of a waw consecutive would be the introduction of verse 3 which begins sequence).
Weston Fields describes the function of this first clause in verse 2 as “circumstantial (subordinate and explanatory) to the main verb of 1:1. This means that 1:2 is a description of the earth as it was created originally, not how it became at some time subsequent to the creation.” (Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005) p. 80).
You can see that verse 2 also consists of 3 clauses, the first clause we just discussed. The 1st and 3rd clauses have verbs, but the middle (2nd) clause does not. It is seen that the verb of the 1st clause controls the first two clauses which describe the state of the earth after being brought into existence ex nihilo by God. The third clause introduces a new idea of the Spirit of God hovering over this formless, void world ready for the next act of creation introduced by verse 3. The word for Spirit here, ruwach, is often translated as wind or breath. Sometimes, when it is combined with ‘elohiym, it is translated as “a mighty wind” or the “breath of God”. This however does not fit with the verb rachaph which means to hover. It does not fit that a wind or breath would hover and seems that the more frequent translation of ruwach would be spirit, and ruwach ‘elohiym would be Spirit of God – the one ready to act.
I think this is a good place to break in this study – and in part 2 we will go over the entire 6 days of creation and the 7th day of rest. We will discuss what is meant by “day” and the various interpretations (Progressive Creationism, Framework Hypothesis, Theistic Evolution, Literal 6 day view, etc. We already discussed the gap theory and how that doesn’t fit the text as it is written.)
I know this is not exactly a “neat” written exegesis on the first 2 verses, but I hope it makes sense. It is amazing the truth that can easily be seen from simple observation and looking at the intent of the original author to the original audience. Also in the 2nd part I will discuss and give my opinion (hopefully I can show that it is based plainly on what the text says) on what the point behind Gen 1:1 – 2:3 is, what the author’s purpose was in telling it to his original audience, and what that means for us today.