Possibly no other section of Scripture is more debated and argued than the text that we will now be covering. Creationists pour over these verses to combat evolutionists. Six-day literalists and theistic evolutionists both devour fiercely these words both to defend and attack. Some Christians wait longingly discuss the age-old question of “gap or no gap?” with whomever might be interested. And, of course, some people might even be terrified by such phrases as “darkness was over the face of the deep.” This section of biblical text is brief in nature, massive in scope, and mysterious in nearly every sense of the word.
THE FACE OF THE DEEP // VERSE 2
The weight and range of verse 2 is nearly as monumental as that of verse 1; however, one key difference between these two verses is the mystery in which this verse is shrouded. We are told that “the earth was without form and void.” The exact meaning of the phrase without form and void is somewhat unclear with regards to this verse, but most scholars seem to agree that it describes the chaotic nature of the earth. The following reference to darkness upon “the face of the deep” serves to accent the disheveled state of creation. The Hebrew word used for “deep” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament in reference to the ocean, but in the ancient world, it also represented the chaos of all nature. It was a common belief in that period that nature was not structured and organized. They believed that only the gods were able to keep everything in working and organized order. There was dreadful fear of the chaos that the world around them could unleash because we have an inherent need for structure and predictability.
Though the first half of this verse is dark and ominous, the tone quickly shifts to a more hopeful focus. We find in the second half that the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Since the deep referenced the vast and mysterious nature of the ocean, the waters referenced here seem to be doing the same. The Spirit of God is said to be hovering above the surface of the deep. When all was a chaotic mess, the Spirit comes on the scene, preparing to the provide order to the disorder. There is certainly some debate about what Moses meant by the Spirit of God in this verse. Many Christians clearly would like to view it as a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity; however, the answer is not so simple. The concept of the triune God is a development only found within Christianity itself, so we cannot say that Moses held a Trinitarian view while writing Genesis. Nevertheless, since it is God who truly authors Scripture through inspiration, we should not find it difficult to believe that these writings of Moses are able to have greater meaning now that God has revealed more to humanity. What Moses likely knew simply as the power and authority of God, we now know to be the third person of the Trinity. Therefore, I believe that we can safely trust that the Holy Spirit is being referenced in this verse.
Finally, after looking somewhat closely at the different aspects of this verse, we must now ask the most pressing question: to what exactly does it refer? When and where exactly does this ominous verse play into the story of creation? Unfortunately, there simply is no definitive answer to any of these types of questions. Clergy and lay-theologians alike have pondered and speculated the significance of this verse for centuries and even millennia. Therefore, I will do my best to summarize a few of the most popular views of how to interpret this verse in relation to all of chapter one.
First, and certainly a popular thought, is the gap theory. In short, the gap theory teaches that verse one refers to God’s creation of all things, while verse two describes creation in the aftermath of a devastating event (most likely the fall of Satan). Most gap theorists also believe in an old earth, since the time period between verse one and two could potentially be billions of years. One of the primary motivations for the forming of this view was, of course, to show that the Bible does not contradict developments in science that claim the earth is billions of years old. They would also argue that the phrase “without form and void” typically carries a connotation of judgment elsewhere in Scripture, thus making if fit to describe the outcome of God’s initial judgment upon Satan.
Standing opposite of the gap theorists are those who believe in no gap between verses one and two. There are two primary means of viewing creation from a no gap perspective. First, verse two describes the condition in which God originally created everything in verse one. In this case, the creation process that begins in verse three details the means through which God gave form or order to creation. Second, verse two can be viewed as describing the nothing that existed before God created everything. This thought views verse one as a sort of thesis statement to the entirety of chapter one instead of as a specific event in time.
To be fair, each view listed above is absolutely biblically sound. Therefore, someone who believes in the gap theory can and should still be brothers with one who believes that verse two describes the absence of creation. This is an issue that we will never know fully this side of heaven; thus, it is a secondary issue. That being said, before I began this study through Genesis, I leaned toward the gap theory viewpoint. However, now after reading several men of faith (each of whom believed something at least slightly different), I find myself leaning toward the thought that verse two describes the original form in which God created everything. In verse one, God created the raw materials of the universe, and verse two describes what that was like. Thus, the remainder of chapter one depicts how God shapes, forms, and fills creation into more of how we know it today. The reason that this view makes sense for me is that it seems to fit God’s modus operandi. Repeatedly in the Bible, we see events which God could accomplish in less than a second; however, He chooses to complete the task through a series of processes. Though He certainly has the ability to form the entire cosmos with the merest of breathes, God systematically constructs the universe through a series of days. God is patient through processes. This thought speaks wonderfully in relation to our salvation. There is a real sense in which the entire life of the believer is one long process of salvation, a process of recreating us. The Holy Spirit was faithful enough to give the creation process through seven days; we can believe that the same Spirit within us will complete the work of recreation that has begun.
THE CREATIVE WORD // VERSE 3
Within this verse and the following two, we find details concerning the first day of creation. Here we find the first words following the beginning of existence, and God is the one who speaks. It is often remarked how He merely spoke, and light came into being. However, we must not miss the major theological point that the apostle John makes in the first chapter of his Gospel. The opening verse parallels verse one of Genesis by describing the Word as being with God, and being God, in the beginning. The parallel then continues in the third verse of both books. John 1:3 declares the great truth that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” John is describing Jesus as the embodied Word of God, the Word through whom everything was created. He mysteriously links God’s “let there be…” declarations to the role of Christ in creation. How exactly is this so? I believe that we can safely say that it is just as mysterious as the nature of the Trinity. It does not necessarily fit within our finite minds, but we can conclude with all faith that the first three verses of Genesis give significant implication as to the vital necessity of the Trinity in the act of creation. The Father declares creation. The Son is the means through, by, in, and for whom creation is declared. And the Spirit empowers the creating process.
LET THERE BE LIGHT // VERSE 4
It is no accident that God created light first. Though we saw in verse two that darkness was upon the face of the deep, God now immediately begins to dispel that darkness. He does so by creating light and then dividing it from the darkness. The ancient mind reading this account would have instantly understood that Moses was declaring God to be sovereign over even the ominous deep which constantly threatened to throw the world into chaos. Through one simple declaration, God creates light, before which darkness has no place. God rejects darkness and ushers in light.
It is also important that we answer the question of how God created light. How can there be light if God did not create the sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day? Many people have given their thoughts, theories, and speculations for how God was able to suspend light in the heavens without the objects that we now know to provide light. However, I will side with John Calvin on this issue:
It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun or moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments, the agents of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore, the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.
Notice here two more points of observance.
First, God evaluates light to be good. This declaration is a piece of the pattern that we will continue to see throughout the days of creation. We are first told that God speaks. We are then given His commandment. The commandment results in a creation and/or a separation. God then names and evaluates the creation.
Finally, we receive the chronological division for each day. Notably absent is the declaration that darkness is good. Instead, we are shown that God separated light from the darkness. This is the first glimpse at the holiness of God. In Him there is light, and the light cannot dwell together with darkness. There must be separation from darkness.
EVENING & MORNING // VERSE 5
First in this verse, God gives name to the light and the darkness. The act of naming implies both existence and sovereignty to the ancient Hebrews. Names were intrinsically connected with the state of being. The name of an object or person was an essential aspect of who they were. Furthermore, being able to name something was a declaration of authority. Thus, God is displaying His sovereignty over even light and darkness by naming them and thus solidifying their existence.
Finally, God declares that there was evening and morning, the first day. Of course, the question must be addressed as to whether or not this day and the others that follow are literal or metaphorical. Historic views lend little help to this question since most ancient scholars gave scarcely a thought to anything beyond six literal days. In fact, it is predominately the concept of evolution and naturalism that caused theologians to question the literal interpretation of this text.
With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on this matter. First, we must never fall into the notion that the Bible must conform to science; instead, science must conform to Scripture. Therefore, let us not shape our biblical worldview around scientific findings that will be obsolete within the coming centuries or even decades. Second, a six literal day leaning is a perfectly acceptable interpretation, maybe even preferred. Third, viewing the days as periods of time is certainly plausible. Near the beginning of chapter two, we find a usage of the word day meaning a much larger period of time; therefore, it could be used likewise here. Fourth, since the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, there is no way of knowing how much those original six days resembled our current 24 hour days.
DAY TWO // VERSES 6-8
The second day of creation can be rather difficult to interpret. We are told that God created an expanse to separate the waters. Once this takes place, there is an expanse, called the Heavens, which resides above and below two sets of waters. Of course, this raise plenty of questions. What exactly is meant by the expanse? Is it only the atmosphere above us, or is the entirety of the universe? Whichever the case may be, what are the waters above the expanse? Is this a reference to the water vapor in the sky, such as the clouds, or is there some greater looming body of water somewhere beyond the stars and galaxies that we know? To be honest, there is no definite answer to any of these questions. Most of the scholars that I have read believe that the waters above refer to the atmospheric water vapor. While this could certainly be true, it seems to require one to view the expanse as being the earth’s atmosphere; however, we will see that God places the sun, moon, and stars into said expanse on day four. Therefore, we could say several things. First, Moses wrote from a clearly human perspective on the sky, which appears to have the celestial entities suspended in the atmosphere. To a degree this is certainly true, as Genesis was never meant to be a science textbook; however, we should take care not to lean too far in such thoughts so as to completely separate science and Genesis. Second, there may have existed in the heavens some sort of large body of suspended water, but following the Flood only the atmospheric clouds remain as a remnant. Third, the body of water above could be located somewhere along the outskirts or even outside of the universe. I know that this thought leans toward pure speculation and seems ridiculous; however, human beings, as a species, have not come even close to viewing the outer parts of the universe. Thus, though it might seem absurd, there could, in fact, exist a body of water out there.
With all of these thoughts and questions floating about these three verses, it is important that we center upon the meaning and significance of them. In regards to the creation process as a whole, we can derive two thoughts.
First, it is clearly within this day that atmosphere is formed. Though the expanse likely refers to outer space as well, there is a noticeable organizing structure to be found within all of the days of creation, being that God is preparing creation to be habitable to humanity. As we will see, God creates mankind to be the crown of creation, the creatures which bear His image. Therefore, the shaping and structuring of the earth and the heavens is in preparation to be the residence of humankind.
Second, these verses emphasize God’s organized and sovereign molding of the existence. The waters being separated here are likely the deep being described in verse two. Thus, God is revealing that the deep, the foreboding terror of the ancient world, is entirely under the control of God. The ominous and powerful waters are His to separate and command. Moreover, if the power of the waters is unleashed upon humanity, they do so solely under the decree of God Almighty and as instruments of His justice (i.e. the Flood).
DAY THREE // VERSES 9-13
Within this first part of the third day, the focus is upon separating the waters below the expanse in order to created dry land. These verses, along with the description of day two, help give further clarity that verse two refers to the preformed earth being covered in a sort of primordial ocean. However, God continues His process of shaping the world to be habitable. God’s authority over the water is once more displayed as He gives command for it to recede and give rise to land. Following this division, God gives name to the land and to the waters, calling them Earth and Seas, and then He declares them to be good.
Unlike the first two days of creation where God performed one work each, on day three He completes two separate but related works of creation. After forming the dry land, God now cultivates the land by causing vegetation to grow. There are several observations which we can glean from these verses. First, God created the vegetation with seeds. This meant that God not only created the first generation of creation, but He intended creation to be sustainable. Instead of God creating eternal plants or needing to recreate a plant every time one died, God created a process by which the plants could reproduce. Since the nature of reproduction is all that we have ever known to be true of creation, we can very easily take for granted the inherent beauty of God’s wonderful and efficient design. Of course, let us not venture too far into deism territory, believing that God created and then left creation alone. God certainly is active and working to uphold creation, but there is also a remarkable self-sustaining nature to creation. Second, God created various types of vegetation, “each according to its kind.” This is a fairly clear shot at the concept of evolution (theistic evolution included) because obviously it appears that God created several kinds of plants all at once. This means that all plants did not evolve from a common ancestry.
With the conclusion of the third day yet another color is added to God’s cosmos. To the basic white and black of day and night has been added the blue of sky and sea. Now the canvas is adorned with green. The golden yellow sun and the reddish human being will complete this rainbow of colors.
DAY FOUR // VERSES 14-19
Before discussing the fourth day of creation, I must note the relationship of the days four, five, and six with days one, two, and three. The process of creation in Genesis 1 can be divided into these two parts: the first three days and the second three days. The reason for this division is because the days of creation construct a parallel of forming and filling. The first three days are concerning the forming of creation, while the second three days focus on filling the formed matter. On day one, God formed light, and on day four, He fills the heavens with bearers of light. Day two shows God forming the oceans and the sky, while they are each filled with creatures on day five. Day three involved two distinctly separate acts of creation, as does day six. The dry ground is formed along with vegetation on the third day. Then on the sixth day, animals are created to fill the earth and humans are made, who will eat the vegetation.
It is here in day four that the heavens are filled with objects of light. However light may have existed within the first three days, it clear that it was on this day that the cosmos began to resemble more closely how they are today. God creates the sun, moon, and stars with another powerful command. Worth noting is the fact that the purpose of these celestial objects is greatly emphasized. First, He states that they are to act as signs. The nineteenth Psalm gives a marvelous thought on how these created objects are to be signs by declaring that the heaven proclaim the glory of God. The declaration and proclamation of the glory of God is the overarching purpose of all creation in general, yet it can be seen to a magnificent degree in the grand entities in the heavens. Second, they serve as a record of time. Since God created the earth to exist within time, the sun and moon serve as a constant means of measuring that time. Third, they provide the light for the earth. The sun by day gives us a great amount of light, while the moon and stars give light by night. These means of the serving earth and the rest of creation was quite a potent message to the people of Moses’ day. As noted previously, these days of creation partially serve as a theological dismantling of the false gods of the ancient world. And such is the case here. Many people worshipped the sun and moon as chief deities. For instance, Ra was the Egyptian sun god, and Baal was a moon god. Thus, by placing these objects in submissive roles, God is affirming His superiority to them.
Also, my favorite phrase within all five of these verses is simply “and the stars.” With the wonders of modern inventions, we have discovered magnificent information about the grandeur of the universe and the trillions upon trillions of stars within it. Yet for all the information that we gain, we are merely left with a greater sense of wonder and mystery. The vastness of the universe is so immense that it could be quite easy to place too much of an emphasis upon it. Because its greatness can be seen, it can overshadow the glory of God, who is invisible. However, the majesty of the universe is meant to point us to the infinitely greater glory of the Most High. The God that we serve is so great that He is able to sum up the creation of nebulas, galaxies, and quasars in three words: and the stars.
We should feel our smallness by comparison. Carl Sagan famously captured such a feeling in the view of the universe’s vastness when he commented on a satellite image of the earth as a tiny blue dot.
Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
DAY FIVE // VERSES 20-23
In parallel to the second day, the air and waters are filled with creatures on the fifth day. Now that the air, seas, land, vegetation, and stars have been created, the earth is ready to support life. In one grand act of creation, God fills the seas and skies with living creatures. The great sea creatures are specifically mentioned here, most likely, because they were also items of worship in the ancient world. Also, we must note that God gives a command to the newly created creatures: they are to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth. This was an act of blessing. The ability to act out the will of God is the highest blessing to be obtained.
DAY SIX // VERSES 24-25
We will conclude this lengthy section of study by only looking at the first act of creation on the sixth day. The creation of man will be discussed in the remainder of chapter one and almost the entirety of chapter two. That said God’s first creation on day six was to fill the dry land with creatures. As with the vegetation and the creatures from day five, God creates all kinds of land animals at once. Three kinds of land animals are listed here: livestock, creeping things, and wild beasts. Since these verses are presenting the theological point of God creating all the land creatures, there is no reason to believe that all animals are meant to exhaustively fall into one of the three categories. The message is clearly that God created all animals, and we are not able to compromise on that point.
 Calvin, John. Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentary. This quotation can be found under the heading of verse three. I am not able to provide an exact page number since the version being used is electronic.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis. p. 126.