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Creation or Re-Creation?
Part 1 (of 2 parts):
Mark F. Rooker
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.
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 : 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.
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 (Gütersloh:
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
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 tōhû is based on a Semitic root *thw and means "desert."' The
term bōhû is also a Semitic term based on the root *bhw, "to be empty."
. . . The Hebrew term bōhû 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 tōhû wāb ōhû 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."
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:
tōhû 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 tōhû here too signifies "a desert-like place” and refers to “an
uninhabited place.”… It should be noted that lō-tōhû 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 tōhû wāb ōhû 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 tōhû wāb ōhû 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,
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,
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
most closely resembles Sarna, Genesis: JPS Torah Commentary, 4.
The Six Days of Creation
1 Light 4 Luminaries
2 Sky 5 Fish and fowl
3 Dry land 6 Land creatures
(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
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.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Dallas Theological Seminary
3909 Swiss Ave.
Dallas, TX 75204
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com
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, " Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra
149 (July-September 1992):316-23.
2 Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative Baptist
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
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 : 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 : 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.
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.
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, " 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 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.
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),
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).
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, " 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.
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 : 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 Delitzsch„ Pentateuch, 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, " Part 1," 320-23.
58 Young, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2," 170.
59 Waltke, Creation and Chaos, 27-28.
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
“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.
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-
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,
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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