In the Beginning
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1. 1-2).
Those are the opening words of the Bible. They speak of a time earlier than the seven creative days which picture the development of the earth into a habitation suitable for man.
There are several beginnings mentioned in the Bible. Jesus spoke of one beginning when, talking of the institution of marriage, He said "He which made them at the beginning made them male and female" (Matt. 19. 4. Mark 10. 4). That was the beginning of the human race and of human history upon earth. Satan, said Jesus on another occasion "was a liar and a murderer from the beginning" (John 8. 44) and this clearly refers to the same time—that of the Eden story. The One presented as the personification of Divine Wisdom in Prov. 8. 23 says "I was set up from of old, from the beginning, before the earth was"; of Him again it is said in John 1. 1-2 "In the beginning was the Word . . . and He was in the beginning with God". This beginning "before the earth was" must obviously be earlier in time than that of Gen. 1. 1 in which God is said to have created the earth.
It has to be concluded therefore that Gen. 1. 1 does not refer to the beginning of Divine creative work but it does refer to the time when what we call this material universe was created and our sun with its attendant worlds came into existence. The account then has to be read as though given from the standpoint of an observer upon this planet, and tells of a time when the primitive earth appeared in the midst of the surrounding heavens.
The word for "heavens"—shamayim— means "the heights", and comes from a Hebrew root "shamah", to be high. (Some expositors make it refer to a belief in the existence of waters above the heavens by prefixing mayim—-"waters" with the adverb sham— "there"—so manufacturing a rather clumsy word "there-waters" for shamayim, but there is no warrant for this). Genesis 1. 1 tells us that in the beginning of things God made the heights above and the earth beneath, without any reference to what had gone before.
It is certain that the spiritual or celestial world had already come into being, for Job 38. 7 tells that at the foundation of this earth "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy". It is impossible to deny that somewhere away in another sphere of Divine creation there were intelligent beings witnessing the processes which brought our universe into being.
Science is still uncertain precisely how the solar system—the sun with its planets—came into existence; several theories compete for acceptance but it is agreed that at a time between two and five thousand million years ago, a vast cloud of gaseous material existing in space consolidated to form a star—our sun —and a number of smaller bodies, the planets, of which our earth is one. The earth was most probably mainly in a molten condition and much of the metals and other solid substances with which we are now familiar vaporised forming a kind of thick and heavy atmosphere around the central core. All water was in the form of steam and there was no free oxygen and no breathable air. Because there was no air no sunlight could reach the surface and the planet was swathed in impenetrable darkness.
That condition of things is aptly described by the next words. "And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep". This expression "without form" denotes a waste or desert condition, and is translated elsewhere in the O.T. by words such as waste, wilderness, confusion, vanity, and so on. "Void" is a word meaning emptiness, so that the phrase really means that the earth, although existing, was a desolate, empty waste. There was no life and no growing thing; just a mass of dead material suspended in space. Another example of the same expression in the Old Testament serves to illumine its use. Jeremiah, seeing in prophetic vision the desolation that was to come upon Judah in consequence of the imminent Babylonian invasion, expressed himself thus "I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light... I beheld, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of heaven were fled. I beheld, and lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by His fierce anger" (Jer. 4. 23-26). In this lament Jeremiah likened the state of his homeland to the desolate and waste condition of the earth before God created man.
At this point some reference should be made to what is called the "Disruption theory" which is still advocated at times although the reasons which called it into being have long since lost their validity. Briefly, this hypothesis claims that prior to the creation of the Adamic race and the events of the seven creative days there had been a pre-Adamic race of beings living upon the earth and that a great cataclysm occurred which destroyed that race and completely desolated the world so that it became "waste and void". Exponents of the thesis claim that the "was" of Gen. 1.2 should properly be rendered "the earth became waste and void" so that verse 1 refers to the pre-Adamite world, verse 2 the cataclysm or "disruption" which overwhelmed it, and verse 3 onwards the restoration of the earth by Divine power in readiness for the race of Adam yet to be created. A variation of the proposition says that these pre-Adamite beings were destroyed because of grievous sin and became the "fallen angels" of later Old and New Testament narratives.
There is no textual foundation for this suggestion. The grammatical sense of verse 2 is accurately represented in the Authorised Version. It implies that, at the time of which it speaks. God created the earth a waste and empty mass. After that, the account goes on to explain, God began to develop the earth into a suitable home for man, and at the end of the narrative man appears as the obvious climax. Grammatically the expression is identical with Jonah 3. 3 "Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh . . . Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city" and Gen 3. 1 "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field". The suggestion that Gen. 1. 2 asserts the existence of an originally complete and perfect earth, later destroyed and then re-created to be a home for the Adamic race, was first made by Dr. Andrew Chalmers in 1814 and elaborated by Dr. Pye Smith in 1838. At that time geologists knew very little of the earth's origin, but discoveries then being made appeared to conflict with the Genesis account. In particular the growing evidence that the planet had passed through a succession of cataclysms which left their mark in the twisted and contorted rock strata - and the fossils and bones of prehistoric animals that were increasingly coming to light - were hard to reconcile with the prevailing belief in a literal seven day creative week. The idea of a pre-Adamic destruction of the world was held to account for these conditions, and made it possible to maintain belief in the seven literal creative days by relegating the long ages of the fossil remains to a time before the first creative day. Once it is realised that the creative week of Genesis covers the entire span of geological time the "disruption theory" has no place.
There is a significant expression at this point. "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters". "In the beginning" God had created the earth, but it was a dead earth, waste and sterile, an unorganised mass of assorted chemical substances of which some were solid, some liquid, and some gaseous, all intensely hot and interacting with each other but all dead. And the Spirit of God brooded over this chaotic world; that is the meaning of the word translated "moved"; as a bird hovering over and brooding over its young. The word is rendered "fluttereth" in Deut. 32. 11 "As an eagle . . . fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings ... so the Lord alone did lead Israel". The Holy Spirit of God came down upon that lifeless creation to bestow life.
The story of how life came to earth and developed upon it, in ever increasing degrees of complexity until at last the time came when God said "Let us make man, in our image" is the theme of the seven creative days. The narrative commences in the third verse of Gen. 1. The first story of the Bible consists of two verses only and it tells, simply, how Divine power, Divine energy, brought together the material substances which compose our earth, setting in motion chemical changes which eventually made it capable of supporting life; and then the Divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, came down to bring the seed of life that the earth might one day teem with living creatures, and finally become a fitting home for man, the crown and glory of terrestrial life.
Energy and life; these are the twin principles of the universe as we know it, emanating from God. Many intellectual men are trying hard to discover the source and nature of both but they are still very much in the dark. The first two verses of Genesis give us the answer; they both come from God and therefore they are, to man, forever unknowable. But God is not only life and energy; He is also Love and Wisdom, and One with whom His children can enter into personal relationship and have communion. He is not only the Creator, He is also the Father; we are not only the work of His hands, we are also His children. We are still in the formative time, not yet grown up, just as the earth we inhabit has not yet attained the fullness of perfection it will know eventually. Nevertheless the day will come when men shall be called the Sons of God because they will have, at last, attained the ideal which God had in mind in that far off day when "In the beginning" He created the heavens and earth.