"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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." --Genesis 1:1-2 NASB
The verses above are fairly simple. At the very beginning of time, God (who is timeless) created the earth and everything around it -- the heavens. This was his first act of creation but it was not a completed work on that first day. It was formless, void, and dark. The earth and sky were like an empty canvass ready for the Master to paint his masterpiece. Another way to look at it was that the world was a huge lump of clay in the Potter's hands which would soon be made into a beautiful piece of pottery. At this time God's Spirit was moving over the waters that then covered the earth.
Even after studying the Bible for many years, several important questions come to mind.
- Who is God?
- When did all of this happen?
- What does "create" mean?
- What does formless and void mean?
- Why was God's Spirit moving over the water?
This may seem like an academic question. But for those reading this book for the first time, there is little information offered. But this question does force us to make some very simple yet profound observations. "In the beginning" infers that God was there when all this happened. No one else was there. He was the sole witness of what happened when everything began. And he existed before anything was created. Thus, God exists apart from Creation. This is difficult for us to understand but it does place God on a different level than what he created. "God created" very simply tells us that God is the one who caused everything to come into being. Once again, we can see that God is endued with powers far beyond anything we can imagine. He created everything that we see out of nothing. The fact that God tells us what happened in the beginning reveals something about him. He wants us to know who he is and what he has done. As we read the rest of the Book of Genesis, we will see more of his character revealed.
At this point in the story, we are not given a date. We are simply told that what follows happened "in the beginning." This is when everything that we see and know began. Therefore, Creation had a beginning point. It has not always existed nor has it been slowly evolved into what we see today. It all started at one point in time when God decided to create it. But when did that happen? The rest of the Book of Genesis gives us information to answer that question. "The age of the earth can be estimated by taking the first five days of creation (from earth’s creation to Adam), then following the genealogies from Adam to Abraham in Genesis 5 and 11, then adding in the time from Abraham to today."1 The end result is that approximately 6,000 years have elapsed since God created the heavens and the earth. Read the rest of Hodge's article for a more complete explanation.
The Hebrew word translated "created" in verse 1 comes from the root word ברא. Its basic meaning is "shape, form, fashion, create."2 In other places, it is used of the Creation of the world (Gen. 2:3; Isa. 45:18), man (Gen. 1:27, 5:1; Deut. 4:32; Mal. 2:10), the wind (Amos 4:13), and a spiritually new heart (Psalm 51:10). These are things that only God can do. "Only God can create--that is, call into existence that which had no existence. '... The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear' (Hebrews 11:3)."3 God can also form something from what already exists as he did with Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:7) but there a different word is used. The Hebrew word יצ ר means "form, fashion"4 and describes how God made some things out of matter he had already created5. In the context of Genesis, God created some things out of nothing and made other things from the material he had already created.
Some have developed an idea that this chaotic wasteland was the result of a divine judgment before the creation of man described in the rest of Genesis 1. "The gap theory, as generally taught today, asserts that in the dateless past God created a perfect heaven and earth. The earth was inhabited by a pre-Adamic race and ruled by Satan, who dwelt in the Garden of Eden. Satan desired to become like God and eventually rebelled (Isa. 14). Thus sin entered the universe, and God's judgment came in the form of first a great flood and then, when the light and heat from the sun ended, a global ice age."6 This interpretation is based more on Babylonian myth7 and evolutionary teaching than what the Bible actually says. It is better to understand verses 1-2 as an introduction/summary of creation. God made the heavens and the earth and started with a watery glob of earth that took several days to fashion into what we know today.
God created the heavens and the earth. However, we know from John 1 that God the Son was involved in creating everything that exists. In this verse, we find that God the Spirit was also involved. But what was he doing? The participle is used elsewhere to describe an eagle hovering over its young (Deut. 32:19) and someone's bones trembling (Jer. 23:9). It implies energetic movement. Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is that this describes the Holy Spirit's activity during the creation. Remember that verses 1-2 are a summary/introduction to the six days of Creation. Taken this way, this is simply revealing that the Holy Spirit was actively involved in the process.
One commentator suggests that the Holy Spirit's movements created the energy that invigorated the entire universe. "Waves are typically rapid back and forth movements and they are normally produced by the vibratory motion of a wave generator of some kind. Energy cannot create itself. It is most appropriate that the first impartation of energy to the universe is described as the 'vibrating' movement of the Spirit of God Himself. As the outflowing energy from God's omnipresent Spirit began to flow outward and to permeate the cosmos, gravitational forces were activated and water and earth particles came together to form a great sphere moving through space."8
These two verses are a summary of God's great work of creation. But as you can see, they also show us several important truths about creation. They reveal the greatness of our God. He is the pre-existing One who caused all things to come into existence. They show us that our universe had a specific beginning and how it happened. There is no need to add millions of years of evolution to this story because God created it all. They show us that God's creation was progressively formed. God first created an imperfect blob of matter and water but eventually fashioned it into the wonderful Creation we see today. They also reveal who was involved in the creating process. God the Father, Son, and Spirit were actively involved in causing the universe to come into being. This summary says alot about our God but we can be thankful that he further explains what happened in the chapters ahead. Read on.
1Bodie Hodge, "How Old is the Earth?" as viewed at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2007/05/30/how-old-is-earth on May 13, 2014.
2Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 135.
3Henry Morris, The Genesis Record, 40.
4Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 427.
5Ross Peters, Did God create plants on Day 3 out of nothing?, as viewed on May 16, 2014.
6John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison -- Studies in Genesis, 43.
7Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 110 ff.
8Henry Morris 52