The First Day
The glory of the Bible is that, unlike the writings of other ancient nations which demonstrated a belief that water was the primal material before the existence of any gods, it claims thatwas in the beginning and that He created all that is. Both the Gap theory and a relatively new theory, which posits that the six-day-creation-clock didn’t really start ticking until God uttered the words “Let there be light” in verse three, suggest that the first day didn’t start in verse one but in either verse two or verse three, respectively. Let us simply analyze, biblically and linguistically, the full range of the key Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1–2 and see what they mean and if they support the idea that a time gap exists in those verses. (English words for which the Hebrew equivalent is given are italicized.)
In the beginning God created (ברא bara) the heavens and the earth (את השׁמים ואת הארץ et hashayim ve’et ha’aretz). The earth was without form, and void (ובהו תהו tohu vavohu); and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהום tehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (המים על־פני al pnei hamayim).
Bara and Asa
The first key word isברא created (bara) which is used a total of 53 times in the Old Testament. The basic and majority times used form of the word, which is used in Genesis 1, has the general meaning of create, shape or form. It has been suggested that the word bara used here in Genesis is a different type of action than the word עשׂה (asa – do, make, fashion or produce) used in Exodus 20:11 where God says that he made the heavens and earth in six days.
Bara and asa are for the most part synonymous with one important distinction between them: bara is used only of God’s actions and never of man’s. There are countless examples of where man can asa (do or make); however, only God can bara. There is by implication creation ex nihilo, but the major thrust of the word bara lies in its use by God only and on the initiation of something new. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) notes concerning asa and its distinction from bara:
The word [asa] occurs with great frequency in the Genesis account of creation, which is the first great act of God in history. The significant interchange between the words bara’ “create” and ‘asa is of great interest. The word bara’ carries the thought of the initiation of the object involved. It always connotes what only God can do and frequently emphasizes the absolute newness of the object created. The word ‘asa is much broader in scope, connoting primarily the fashioning of the object with little concern for special nuances. The use of bara’ in the opening statement of the account of creation seems to carry the implication that the physical phenomena came into existence at that time and had no previous existence in the form in which they were created by divine fiat. The use of ‘asa may simply connote the act of fashioning the objects involved in the whole creative process. (TWOT: 1708 asa)
As the TWOT notes, the use of asa is a broader term than bara, but we see from the context in which the words are used that they can be used interchangeably to a large extent. Perhaps the best example is Isaiah 45:18 where God is disparaging those who put their trust in idols rather than in Him, the true God andof all. Notice that the three words that are used, create, form and make all describe the same event – the creation of the heavens and earth.
For thus says the LORD,
Who created (bore בורא) the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed (yotzer יוצר) the earth and made (oseh עושׂה) it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create (braha בראה) it in vain,
Who formed (yatzarah יצרה) it to be inhabited:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:18)
This verse is incredibly specific, especially in regards to the creation of the earth. First of all, God declares that He is the one who created (bore בורא) the heavens – which could also be translated as Creator of the heavens. Next He says that He is the former (yotzer יוצר) and the maker (asah עושׂה) of the earth, a seeming confirmation of the supposed distinction of bara and asa. However, God continues by saying that He created it, where the word it, is the third person singular feminine possessive suffix. Put simply, it means that the word it is attached to the word created. The word it must refer to earth because the earth is a singular feminine noun and heavens is a dual masculine noun. Clearly and unmistakably God declares that He created, formed, and made the earth. Thus, to suggest that Exodus 20:11 (“For in six days the LORD made [asa] the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them…”) is not parallel in thought to Genesis 1 is to ignore the evidence in favor of one’s own theory.
The Heavens and Earth
Thus far verse one has told us the when of creation – in the beginning, and then the how – God created something completely new (bara), which only God can do. Now we are up to the what, which is of course: the heavens and the earth. The question before us is understanding what precisely that means since immediately in verse two we are told that the earth was formless and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu); the earth must have not been fully complete. Thus, just what did He create? What are we to understand by the heavens and the earth? Did He create them complete or could that term be understood as the material that He would later form, as if He first created the clay and then worked it into a suitable form?
The answer to this enigma lies in the fact that there is no single word for universe in Hebrew, which is confirmed by the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The Hebrews had no proper word for ‘world’ in its wide sense of ‘universe.’ The nearest approach to such a meaning is in the phrase ‘the heavens and the earth.’”[i] Thus, stating that God created the heavens and the earth is equivalent in our day to saying that He created the universe; it encompasses all that is.[ii] Bible commentators Keil and Delitzsch note the significance of the first creative act found in the Bible:
[…] there is nothing belonging to the composition of the universe, either in material or form, which had an existence out of God prior to this divine act in the beginning (Keil & Delitzsch Genesis 1:2).
That is to say, God essentially created the building blocks before beginning construction. The term the heavens and the earth here might be thought of as the raw material, the elements that God created out of nothing that He would form and fashion later to His liking. Consider that before God created anything, there was only God. There was no universe, no vacuum of space, nothing whatsoever. There was only God. Thus as part of His creative act, He had to create a dimension that was apart from Him – in which He could further manipulate and form the basic elements according to His will. Keil & Delitzsch again comment:
This is also shown in the connection between our verse and the one which follows: “and the earth was without form and void,” not before, but when, or after God created it. From this it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning. At the same time it is obvious from the creative acts which follow (vv. 3-18), that the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; (Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Genesis 1:1)
“The earth was without form, and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu)” (Genesis 1:2a)
Verse two tells us that the matter God created was still in no particular shape or form. There was no planet earth as we know it today, but the raw material that God had created, (according to Genesis 1:2b) was still in no special shape. It was still unformed and unorganized. These words do not in any way suggest that there had been an earlier creation, as proposed by the Gap Theory. They do not suggest that the earth was a wasteland waiting to be recreated. The word tohu in Genesis 1:2, according to the TWOT, refers not to the result of a supposed catastrophe (for which there is no clear biblical evidence) but to the formlessness of the earth before God’s creative hand began the majestic acts described in the following verses. As Jeremiah 4:23 indicates, the earth always has the potential of returning to tohu wabohu if God decides to judge it. (TWOT Tohu)
Furthermore, the text says that the earth “was without form, and void” and not “became without form, and void” as the Gap Theorists argue.[iii] The Hebrew והארץ היתה vehaaretz hayta is what is known grammatically as a copulative clause.[iv] The Hebrew letter vav (or waw) attached to the noun (the earth) acts as a type of parenthetical[v] statement that is to suggest a reading: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Now the earth was without form, and void.)” Thus the earth was desolate and void (tohu vavohu) at the very beginning of God’s creation and did not become as a result of God recreating it.
Tehom, the Deep
The rest of verse 2 seems to indicate that the creation of the heavens and the earth was water. That is to say, that all of the matter of the universe was comprised of water and that water was formless.
…and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהוםtehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim). (Genesis 1:2b)
The apostle Peter comments on the creation of the world from water, “…that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water” (2 Peter 3:5)
It is also interesting to note that several ancient creation myths (cosmologies) had water as the original and eternal substance from which gods subsequently emerged.[vi] The Bible, of course, demonstrates the superiority of God over His creation since He is the one who made the waters, and not the one emerging from the waters. These ancient myths, I believe, are a distorted memory of the true creation account in which water was the first substance God created.
Tehom accurately describes well the water that was there in the beginning. It is best translated as deep, depths, or abyss. According to A. S. Yahuda, a word similar to tehom appears in the ancient language of Akkadian, which has a very similar meaning, thus helping us to better understand its use in the Bible:
[…] [tamtu] is conceived in its primordial condition as […] the primeval water as a sea, an ocean, before the earth was created by the heaping up of mud on the shore of this tamtu. (Yahuda 1933: 128)
Physicist Dr. Russel Humphreys, in his book, Starlight and Time, describes his theory based on the observations of this verse, how water might have then been transformed into the other known elements, “…this verse suggested to me that the original material God created, the deep, was pure water, which He then transformed into other materials”[vii] (Humphreys 2004: 72).
Merachefet, God’s Energizing of His Creation
And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim). (Genesis 1:2b)
The last word to analyze, מרחפת (merachefet), found also in Deuteronomy 32:11[viii] denotes the fluttering, hovering, or brooding motion of a bird over its nest.
As an eagle stirs up its nest,
Hovers (מרחפת merachefet) over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings, (Deuteronomy 32:11)
The purpose of the act of brooding by a bird over its nest is to provide warmth and nurturing to its young. The movement is that of the bird gently shaking and moving its body in fairly small motions. It also contains the idea of the bird covering its young with its wings, enveloping them in order to bring them to maturity.[ix]
It seems that at this point God began to energize the raw material that He made in verse 1. The oscillation on the face (or surface) of the deep, which is really what the hovering could be compared to, created the movement of the inert elements. It is interesting that all matter and energy at their core are simply wavelengths; “matter acts as both a particle and as a wave” (Koehler 1996).
We saw above that the Hebrew letter vav attached to the front of the word hayta (was) created a type of parenthetical statement. The fact that מרחפת (merachefet) is a transitive participle substantiates that verse 2 is not a new thought or even the first act of God but a clarification of what came before it in verse 1.
The sequence of events is that the first thing that God did was to create the heavens (space) and the earth (material) – that is, He created a place or dimension outside of Himself and then the matter to work with, which we are told was without form and empty. Then God, hovering over the face of the deep, decreed light to exist. These are the first recorded words of God, but in fact, the third creative act.
This view can be strongly defended from the Hebrew grammar. The typical sequence of a narrative is to start with a verb in the simple past tense[x] (Genesis 1:1 begins with bara – created in the simple past tense) thereby signifying something new or dramatic to the story. Verse 2 we saw is a parenthetical statement explaining what is meant exactly by the creation of the “earth”. The action picks up again in verse 3 with the use of a sequential past tense[xi]. The use of a different kind of Hebrew verb marks quite clearly that the writer understood the actions of verse 3 to be a continuation of the previous two verses. Hebrew expert Dr. Buth notes that this is the normal storytelling construction in biblical Hebrew.
The sequential past tense is used to present the next event in the story or the next event in a sentence. If the writer wants to mark a break in the flow of the story for any reason, then they do not use the sequential past tense. For a past event they would need to put something other than the verb at the beginning of the sentence and then use a simple past tense (Buth 2005: 52).
Not only is verse 3 a continuation of verse 1, but the entire creation account of Genesis 1 uses the sequential past tense. Consequently, according to the grammar, there is no break between verse 1 and the rest of the chapter.
Thus, there is no reason to try to place millions of years between any of the first three verses since they are all part of that first day. Light was created on the first day, along with the very building blocks necessary for even the light to shine, which was energized by the movement of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep. There exists, therefore, no reason to believe that the length of the first day was any different than that of any other, nor was there a previous world that fell only to be recreated, nor was there even a geologic creation some billions of years earlier. The first three verses of Genesis 1, the first day, all occurred within 24 hours just like the rest of the days as we shall see.
The Days in Genesis 1
The days in Genesis 1 should certainly be understood as literal, 24-hour days due to the usage of the limitation of the evening and the morning[xii] found throughout Genesis 1 (the fact that the sun was not created until the fourth day is irrelevant since the rotation of the earth is what constitutes a day – the light source is immaterial). Even though the evidence seems to point to literal, 24-hour days in Genesis one, the old-earth camp is still persuaded that these days are long periods of time rather than normal (24-hour) days. They suggest that the usage of ordinal numbers (first, second, third, fourth etc.) rather than cardinals as noted previously, denotes different eras of time and thus the first era (day) is followed by the second era (day) etc. where each day equals an unknown but extremely long period of time in which the slow processes of evolution, with God’s help, had enough time according to Darwin’s model of slow change.
There are some fatal flaws to this theory, however, from a biblical perspective. First of all, the first day of Genesis in the Hebrew is not actually defined as the first day, but rather as day one or yom echad יום אחד. The word echad is the cardinal number one and should not be understood as first ראשׁון rishon, but as in the series one, two, three, four, etc. We have seen previously that any time day occurs with a cardinal number, it always refers to a literal, 24-hour day. So we can conclude that the first day of creation was 24 hours.
God Defines the Days for Us
The absolute solution to this puzzle of the length of the days in Genesis is given by God Himself. After taking the children of Israel out of Egypt, God led them to a place called Mount Sinai where He gave them the law. In Exodus chapter 20 verses 9 and 10, God states,
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.”
There is no doubt whatsoever that God is talking about a regular workweek. The people were to work six (literal) days and then they were to take a day off, something very different from the custom of the peoples around them, who generally didn’t take any days off.
In verse 11 of chapter 20 God gives the reason and history behind the seven-day week:
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Here God unequivocally declares that He created everything in only six days. As with the other times that a cardinal number appears before the word day (yom יום), here too it is used as a literal, 24-hour day. So God makes perfectly clear how long he took to make the universe (just in case anyone should be confused). If these days are not taken as literal days then neither can the Sabbath be taken as literal. However, the fact that the Sabbath is a literal day starting at sunset Friday evening and lasting until the following Saturday evening goes back in Hebrew tradition as far back as Mount Sinai and is a very cherished day. Since we know that the Sabbath has always been considered a literal span of 24 hours, we can safely conclude that the six days of creation are to be taken literally as well.
It would seem that God wanted to reiterate[xiii] the message for those that still didn’t get it. In Exodus 31:15, 17 He says,
“Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death […] It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”
There is no way to circumvent this declaration: the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, observed for 24-hours every week, is a sign between the Jewish people and God. Transgressing the covenant was punishable by death. The Israelites knew exactly how long it was – for not knowing would cost them their life. The Sabbath was/is 24 hours and therefore, so are all of the other days of the week, which is how long it took God to create the heavens and the earth. This is a far cry from an indefinite period of time!
On the other hand, a nominal or verbal clause with Waw forms a sort of parenthesis and precedes the main clause as in Gn 13.2 ואברהם כָּבֵד מאד now Abraham was very rich … ; 24.16 now the young girl was very beautiful…; Jon 3.3 now Nineveh was an enormous city; Gn 48.10 וְעֵינֵי ישׂראל כָּֽבְדוּ מִ ֫זֹּקֶן now the eyes of Israel were heavy because of old age; Josh 4.10 “whilst the priests … stood (עֹמְדִים) in the middle of the Jordan … the people hurriedly crossed over (וַיְמַהֲרוּ וַיַּעֲבֹ֫רוּ).” This same type of clause is also found used in an independent fashion: 1Kg 1.1 (at the very beginning of a narrative) now King David was old, advanced in age; Gn 37.3 now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons.
[vi] “In almost all primitive creation stories in Egypt, the eternal substance that existed in the beginning and whose origin is not explained is water, the primeval ocean, Nun.” (Redford 1992: 398)
He also notes that he based “a theory about the origin of the planetary magnetic fields on the possibility that the earth and other bodies in the solar system were originally created as pure water” (Humphreys 2004: 73). He remarks that his theory has been extremely successful in predicting measurements of the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune.