Back to Genesis


  • The following dialogue about both the question and the answer regarding Genesis chapter 1 has occurred between Jon the freelance theologian and JB, from Australia.

    JB wrote:

    Jon, I was a little puzzled by both the question and the answer in the post on Genesis 1:
    Question: “At the beginning the spirit of God hovered over the waters, but water was only created later in the genesis account. Was there a pre-genesis physical existence of the earth?”

    If God hovered over the waters in the beginning, but water was only created later in the Genesis account, I’m not sure why that might seem to suggest that there may have been a pre-Genesis physical existence of the earth. To me it would seem to raise a different kind of question, such as how chronological the Genesis account is. The writer’s question, “Was there a pre-Genesis physical existence of the earth?” seems a reasonable stand-alone question, because of the contextual possibility of a passing of time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2. But as a stand-alone question, it could be answered from Gen 1:31-2:2, a context that indicates the 6-day period included creation of both the heavens AND the earth – not just the earth.

    But my surprise about your answer is that you don’t mention the error in the writer’s statement about water being “only created later in the Genesis account”. All of my several versions of the Bible make it clear that water was created right at the beginning, and later was only changed in the way it was arranged. None of the version wordings even suggest that water was created any later than Gen 1:1-2. I’d be interested in hearing your comments on this.

    Jon the freelance theologian then responded:

    Hi JB,
    Well it’s really nice to get a question, even if it’s to query both the question and the answer!
    The point is that our translations translate ‘waters’ as ‘waters’ when in fact it had a deeper meaning than that in the original Hebrew. I did notice the inconsistency in the question, but I think the thrust of it was about the ‘pre-existent Earth’, not the order of creation. Technically, later on (on ‘day 2’) when God ‘divides the waters’ and names the ‘waters’ sky and sea you could argue that was an act of creation.

    To which JB responded:

    Hi Jon,
    From your comments here, obviously you know more about the Hebrew than I do. If “waters” has a deeper meaning (e.g. chaos or something similar), then my point is not quite as compelling, though I would still find it difficult to argue that the act of dividing the waters is an act of creation. Really the deeper meaning of “waters” would just mean we don’t know exactly when water was created, though obviously it still had to be before the water was divided.

    This then prompted Jon the freelance theologian to reply:

    Ironically this passage was one we went into in-depth when I did Hebrew at college, so I dug out my notes on it. I think if I was being asked to translate it now I might find it a bit more difficult.

    I think we need to clear up a few things:
    1) Genesis 1 verse 1 is an introductory line that prefaces the rest of the story. Given that, in verse 2 it does seem to imply an Earth, featuring ‘water’ or ‘the deep’, that acted as a blank template for God’s act of creation. But it only implies that if we ignore the following point.

    2) ‘Waters’ represents chaos/death/evil in Hebrew thought, so although the literal translation in verse 2 is ‘water’, in effect what is being said is that nothing existed except unformed chaos (‘the world was without form’). When it says ‘the world was empty’ we do not automatically assume that it was a hollow globe. In fact that means it was devoid of life (it gets filled following God’s command in verse 28).

    3) In the Genesis account God ‘speaks’ and things happen. Creation and naming go hand in hand. So on ‘day 2’ when God ‘separates the waters’, he is creating the sky and on ‘day 3’ when he names the gathered waters under the sky ‘sea’, he is creating the sea. These are the forms in which we know water – as sky and sea or anything in-between in the precipitation cycle. It is legitimate, then, to describe this as creation, especially as previous references to ‘water’ may have referred to chaos.

    4) Regarding the chronological accuracy of the Genesis account, it’s probably best if that is left to the opinion of the discerning reader. However, Genesis was not meant to be read as a scientific document or a ‘How to Create a Planet’ guide. It is as much a statement about who God is as it is about what he does.

    I hope that these points make sense JB. Thanks for the discussion – it’s been really enjoyable.

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