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Water Before Creation?
Q.I have always been puzzled as to the reference to the waters in Genesis 1:2. It is written in a way that makes me think water already existed before God created it! Could you please elaborate? Thanks!
For our readers Genesis 1:2 says,
"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" (NASB).
This is a terrific question, and we will probably give you more than you wanted. It answers several issues for many others, too, so please bear with us.
Translations of Ancient Texts
When we read the Bible one of our problems is that we are reading modern translations made by fallible men from a very ancient set of texts. Some of these ancient texts are from writings authored sometime between 1500- 3500 B.C. or in some cases or forms, even earlier.
Stand Alone Words
Furthermore, some Hebrew words puzzle us because we can find no other ancient texts which help us to put these words in context. There may be no other usage of a particular word from any other ancient text. So we break it down and try to extract meanings from its roots.
The Gap Theory
The verse you have picked is one of those cases. From this verse many scholars over the ages have determined that the Hebrew meaning of "The earth was formless and void," is better translated: "The earth became formless and void." In other words, to "become" void is different than "was" void. To become void means that God recreated the earth during its early Genesis days. This is called the "gap theory."
Scholars such as Barnhouse, Scofield, G.H. Pember and Arthur Custance are among those who hold to this view. The word "became" here is thought to be like "became" in verse 19:26…"But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she 'became' a pillar of salt." In the same way the earth "became" formless and void.
Various Study Notes on "Waters"
In the case of your question about the waters…"the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" means more literally that God's Spirit was "brooding" over (like a hen broods over her chicks) in the sense of protecting and participating in the creative work (Ryrie Study Bible).
The Life Application Study Bible says, "'the earth was formless and empty' provides the setting for the creation narrative that follows."
John MacArthur mentions that "without form and void" means 'not finished in its shape and as yet uninhabited by creatures (cf. Isa. 45:18, 19, Jer. 4:23). God would quickly (in 6 days) decorate His initial creation (1:2-2:3)."
Regarding the waters of the deep, MacArthur further says that the "deep" is "sometimes referred to as primordial waters. This is the term used to describe the earth's water-covered surface before the dry land emerged (1:9, 10). Jonah used this word to describe the watery abyss in which he found himself submerged (Jonah 2:5)." (MacArthur Study Bible 1996, 16).
Zondervan's study notes mention that the words "without form and void" appear elsewhere only once in Jeremiah 4:23. This is an interesting passage. It says, "I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form, and void. And the heavens, and they had no light" (KJV).
Okay. Now that we've looked over some commentaries and study notes it appears that the earth may have undergone some kind of chaotic cataclysm in Genesis 1:2. The "gap theory" supposes that this period may have lasted for a long time, possibly ages or millions of years. Some scholars even theorize that it included a judgment of some kind upon a prior creation possibly ruled by Satan. At any rate, God's creative work in Genesis was to restore the earth to order and create life as we know it today upon this earth.
Summary of Gap Theory
From Dr. Batten's book, The Revised and Expanded Answers Book, pg. 61, comes a reasonably good summary of the gap theory by Fields:
In the far distant dateless past, God created a perfect heaven and perfect earth. Satan was ruler of the earth which was peopled by a race of 'men' without any souls. Eventually, Satan, who dwelled in a garden of Eden composed of minerals (Ezek. 28), rebelled by desiring to become like God (Isa. 14). Because of Satan's fall, sin entered the universe and brought on the earth God's judgment in the form of a flood (indicated by the water of 1:2), and then a global ice age when the light and heat from the sun were somehow removed. All the plant, animal, and human fossils upon the earth today date from this 'Lucifer's flood' and do not bear any genetic relationship with the plants, animals, and fossils living upon the earth today.
(Weston Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, pg. 7)
As you can see, in Field's summary Genesis 1:2 hints of an earlier flood judgment prior to Noah's flood.
Hovind's Ice-Meteor Theory
Dr. Hovind theorizes that prior to the flood a mist rose up from the earth because the earth was encased in a "vapor canopy." See Genesis 2:6. There was no need for rain as we know it. At that time the angle of the earth on its axis was a perfect 90 degrees to the sun which provided tropical conditions worldwide. Then an ice meteor struck the vapor canopy causing it to break down and fall upon the earth as rain.
Since ice becomes magnetic at minus 300 degrees this would have instantly frozen all life forms, and caused a pole shift which would have caused tectonic plates to shift as well. This may account for the frozen baby mammoth we found in Siberia in 1977 with tropical vegetation still in its mouth.
(Students, please note that although Dr. Hovind's advanced degree may have come from a defunct Bible College or perhaps a diploma mill, as some think; nevertheless, his views are entertaining and thought-provoking).
Biblical Creation Opposed to Evolutionary Theory?
There is no question that from the creationist's point-of-view the Biblical account of creation does not fit with Darwin's theory of evolution. For example, in the biblical narrative the Earth was created before the sun and stars. The earth was initially covered in water. Oceans were created before dry land. Life was first created on land. Plants were created before the sun (probably with an alternate source of light). Land animals were created after birds. And whales came before land animals.
We hold that the Biblical account in Exodus 20:11 is accurate and it refers to a six day creation. This comes across to many as a naive or a "head in the sand" statement.
But think about this. We live in a time that sees changes in scientific theory and the understanding of the physical nature of the universe in constant flux and debate. What was considered fact even 50 years ago is now considered wrong. New theories about the speed of light and the expanding universe are challenging the whole idea that the universe is "billions and billions" of years old. Our current concepts of time itself is being challenged. So we are keeping an open but somewhat sceptical mind.
We need make no apologies for this - readers will find excellent scientific documentation and explanations from organizations such as the Creation Research Institute and other creationist groups. Beside, here is a tidbit for those who think they need to remain faithful to Darwin. Charles Darwin's original treatise was entitled:
"Evolution of the Species: a Struggle for Favoured Races in Mankind"
Christians, thankfully, can completely reject the notion of "superior races" found in Darwin's original writings. We do not need to support theories which give rise to Hitlerian doctrines. There is plenty of good science available to all of us.
To conclude, the subject of why and how fallible men chose to translate God's Holy Word into particular English words and phrases and into other languages is another subject. But, I hope you can see that we are limited by our knowledge of ancient texts, original Hebrew meanings, and our small - in fact, very tiny - understanding of science (disregarding modern man's incredible arrogance).
Hovind's or Field's theories help us to imagine how things may have occurred. But, the gap theories or the ice-meteor theory are just helpful explanations. They are not necessarily "the" absolute truth. It helps to know that God gave us all we need to know in order to understand our world and how to live godly lives through the guidance of His Word:
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16, HCSB).
Archer, Gleason. 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Batten, Don. 1990. The revised&expanded answers book. From the Creation Science Foundation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. Available from: www.masterbooks.net.
Hovind, Kent. Creation Seminar Series. (DVDs). Available from: www.drdino.com.
Muncaster, Ralph. 2004. Examine the evidence. Eugene, OR: Multnomah.
Authors Ken Emilio holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie received her M.A. in History from UCLA specializing in early church history. They know they are just a "vapor" that appears for a little while and must make the most of the days remaining (Eph 5:15; James 4:14).
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