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By Dr. C. Vandam
The SpindleWorks Digital Christian LibraryE-mail SpindleWorksShopping GuideSearch SpindleWorks SpindleWorks Home Page From the Clarion Nov. 25, 1988 - March 31, 1989

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Files CREATION 1 - 7 are a series of articles about Creation and Evolution that were published by Dr. C. Vandam in Clarion (The Canadian Reformed Magazine).1 The first article appeared in the November 25, 1988 issue and the seventh in the March 31, 1989 issue. Dr. Vandam is professor of Old Testament at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches since May 1981. 

After completing his secondary education in Burlington, Ontario, Dr. Vandam studied at Waterloo Lutheran (now Wilfrid Laurier) University in Waterloo, Ontario from 1965 - 1968 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in the General Pre-theology Program on May 20, 1968. In the school year of 1968 - 1969, his academic work continued at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. After the establishment of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches he enrolled there in fall of 1969 and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in May 1971. 

While serving as a minister for the Brampton congregation Dr. Vandam continued his studies at the Toronto School of Theology (Knox College), University of Toronto in the Master's program. The degree of Master of Theology was awarded to him in May 1980. During 1980 he started his studies for the doctorate at the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (Liberated) in Kampen, The Netherlands.2 He received the Doctor of Theology degree in June 1986. 

Professor Van Dam is a minister of the Canadian Reformed Church at Surrey BC, and has served Canadian Reformed congregations in Neerlandia, Alberta; Brampton, Ontario; and Surrey, British Columbia. He was installed as Professor at the Theological College in September 1981. 

Dr. Vandam's dissertation is entitled The Urim and Thummim: A study of an Old Testament Means of Revelation, Kampen: Uitgeverij Van den Berg, 1986. (See also the select bibliography below on Urim and Thummim.)

Select bibliography of other publications

1 Clarion is published biweekly by Premier Printing Ltd., One Begin Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R2J 3X5.
2 Theologische Hogeschool van de Gereformeerde Kerken (Vrijgemaakt) in Nederland te Kampen.



God's Word starts off with those impressive words in Genesis chapter one. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." What a powerful and deep opening word of divine revelation! There is nothing else like this in the so-called creation stories of man's imagination. This is revelation! For that reason this opening verse continues to speak so directly to man today. 

In the beginning 

"In the beginning...." The context indicates that this is the very first beginning, the start of the world when time itself began. Before this beginning, before creation, there was no time, only eternity. God was. He is eternal and His existence is here presupposed. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God" (Psalm 90:2). God is without a beginning and without an end. We cannot understand eternity, for we are finite, created beings. We cannot reach out with our minds and comprehend the situation before time started. 

When we read "In the beginning" in Genesis 1, we can also think of John 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The Word is a designation of the second person of what we call the Trinity, namely the Son. He was with God the Father in the beginning. The designation "God" often refers to the Father in the Old Testament and that is the case here. In Genesis 1:2 we read about the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." The triune God was there in the beginning, active in the work of creation (cf., e.g., Hebrews 1:10; Colossians 1:16; Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 40:12-14). 

God created 

It is noteworthy that the subject of the Hebrew word for "create" is always God and never a human being or a false god. God is the only One who creates. The context makes it clear that this work of the creation of heaven and earth did not consist of making something out of what already existed, but it brought into being what did not exist. (In this connection it is interesting, although not decisive for this understanding, that the verb "create" is never used with a preposition or accusative of the material from which God creates.) 

Elsewhere Scripture elaborates on this creation work of God which our Confession describes as creation "out of nothing" (Belgic Confession, Art. 12).2 We read in Psalm 33:9 "He spoke and it came to be; He commanded and it stood forth" (cf. v6). Similarly Psalm 148 referring to the heavens says "He commanded and they were created" (v.5; cf. Isaiah 48:13)

The heaven and the earth 

In Hebrew, the word for heaven is always in the plural and therefore one can also translate "the heavens and the earth." The heaven(s) and the earth are the totality of creation. This is everything. "Heaven(s)" must here therefore be understood in as broad a sense as possible. Even today, despite our twentieth century perspective, we, as creatures living on earth, think of the universe as "heaven and earth." 

This phrase also points to the unity of creation. It is used everywhere in Scripture where the one creation work of God is referred to (e.g. Genesis 2:4; Psalm 121:2; 2 Peter 3:7,13). Although heaven and earth are clearly distinguished, yet there is a close bond between them. Whether one thinks in the first place of the earth's atmosphere, or outer space or heaven as the dwelling place of God, it is true that whatever happens in the one is of importance for the other. This is of course especially true of heaven as the abode of the LORD. 

Although this too is part of God's creation work and is included in Genesis 1:1, this chapter does not further inform us of the creation of the angels or give any details about the place where God has His throne (cf. Psalm 14:2; 103:19). The concern of God's revelation in Genesis is the world and what is seen from it. 

Genesis 1:1 and false philosophies 

The opening verse of Scripture is foundational to so much that it is clearly a passage of great significance whose importance does not diminish with the passing of the years. When the message of this verse is heeded, its relevance becomes clear also in exposing false philosophies and ideas for what they are. Some important ones can be mentioned. 

This verse refutes atheism, the belief that God does not exist. Notice that the Word of God does not start with arguments for the existence of God! Scripture simply affirms it. "In the beginning, God..." We do not need to prove God's existence. We may start from that fact (cf. Romans 1:18-21). 

Also polytheism, the view that there are many gods is opposed by this passage. God (and not gods) "created the heaven and the earth." One can think here of Isaiah 45:18. "For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!) who formed the earth and made it...: `I am the LORD and there is no other'." Thus God said in the second word of the covenant "you shall have no other gods before me!" (Exodus 20:3). 

Genesis 1:1 likewise leaves no room for materialism. This belief can be defined as holding that "physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter" (Webster). Consistent materialism therefore maintains that matter is eternal and only what we can see, handle and touch is really important. The existence of God and the soul of man are denied. The first verse of Scripture, however, shows that God alone is eternal and that He brought matter into being. 

Pantheism is also refuted. This philosophy equates God with the laws and forces of the universe. Indeed all things are considered partakers of the one divine essence. Pantheistic thinking is sometimes evident from the manner in which battles for a better ecology and environment are fought (cf. the sacredness of the environment etc.) and it is basic to the growing New Age movement.3 But, God is clearly distinguished from creation in Genesis 1:1 and therefore cannot be identified with it in any way. He is Creator and stands above and beyond creation which is His handiwork. 

It is obvious that Genesis 1:1 is a very important verse and a clear and correct understanding of it is crucial. But how does verse one relate to verse two? That question is for next time. 

  C. Vandam

1 This article is the first in a series selected from lectures delivered on a popular level. Most of the material has been revised for publication, and in keeping with the nature of Clarion footnotes have been kept to an absolute minimum.
2 Cf. on this, P.E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1977), 452 (on Hebrews 11:3).

3 See, e.g., D.R. Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (1986), 20f., 48ff.




The first two verses (and sentences) of Scripture read: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." How do these two statements relate to each other? 

Traditionally it has been explained this way. "The first verse serves as a broad, comprehensive statement of the fact of creation. Verse two describes the earth as it came from the hands of the Creator and as it existed at the time when God commanded the light to shine forth."1 Since Exodus 20:11 informs us that "in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them", verse two of Genesis 1 is part of the first day. It is also clear from the same passage that the beginning of the creation work of God (referred to in Gen 1:1) was on that first day as well.

The gap theory 

Early in the nineteenth century, the so-called gap theory was set forth under the pressures of the rise of modern science and the apparent necessity to harmonize what seemed to be scientific truth with the text of Scripture. In its barest essentials this theory postulates a large time gap between verses 1 and 2 of the first chapter of Genesis. During this time gap, the perfect creation of verse 1 was ruined, presumably by the fall of satan. This ruined earth is pictured in verse 2. The conditions there described were caused by God's judgment in the form of a flood, followed by a global ice-age when the light and the heat from the sun were somehow removed. All the fossils, be they of plants, animals or humans, which are found on the earth today date from that destructive time period. These fossils do not bear any genetic relationship with life as now found on the earth. Proponents of this theory "have almost uniformly appealed to it for the harmonization of huge quantities of time required by evolutionary scientists and the rather recent creation Genesis seems to present".2 With the first world ruined, a subsequent restoration was needed. This we find recorded beginning with Genesis 1:3. 

What are the arguments for such a time gap? Since this is a rather popular theory, let us consider the arguments one by one and weigh each one as to its validity.3

"To create" and "to make" 

The first argument for the gap theory that can be mentioned is that according to the proponents of this theory, the Hebrew verb meaning "to create" must be rigidly separated from the Hebrew verb "to make". "To create" means to make from nothing and "to make" never means that, but only refers to making out of material that is already present. (The verb "to form" is also grouped with "to make" in this context.) It is then argued that in Genesis 1:1 we read: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth", but that elsewhere it says: "in six days the LORD made heaven and earth" (Ex 20:11; also see Gen 2:1-3); that is God then prepared the heavens and the earth from material that was at hand. According to this argument, Genesis 1:1 therefore describes a completely different event from that recounted in verses 3 and following in the same chapter. Genesis 1:1 does not speak of the work of God described in Genesis 1:3-2:3, but relates to an earlier work of God, a world that had been created before the present world was made from the ruined first world. 

The question of course arises whether such a rigid distinction can be made between "to create" and "to make" (and "to form"). The answer is no. The evidence is as follows. Although it is true, as we have seen in the preceding article, that the verb "to create" expresses better than any other word the idea of an absolute creation, a making from nothing, yet, we should not drive a wedge or artificial division between "to create" and "to make". After all both are used of God's work with respect to the origin of the world. Scripture must be compared with Scripture. When this is done then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the statement "God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen 1:1) and the statement "the LORD made the heaven and the earth" (Ex 20:11) both refer to the same event and not to two different events. The reason for this conclusion is that the verbs "to create" and "to make" are used interchangeably in speaking of God's creation work. 

This interchangeability can be demonstrated from Genesis 1 and 2. About the creation of man we read: "Let us make man" (Gen 1:26); "God created man" (Gen 1:27) and compare also "the LORD God formed man" (Gen 2:7). Although with the creation of man there are different connotations of the verbs used (cf. Gen 2:7), there is an interchangeable usage. Similarly we read that "God created the great sea monsters" (Gen 1:21) and that "God made the beasts of the earth" (Gen 1:25). Here too the terms are used interchangeably. When God called the sea creatures into being (Gen 1:20), He created (Gen 1:21). When He called the creatures of the earth into being (Gen 1:24), He made them (Gen 1:25). This synonymous usage is also found in Genesis 2:4. "These are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created, in the day when the LORD God made the earth and the heaven." So, just from Genesis 1 and 2 it is already evident that "to create" and "to make" are used interchangeably. This can also be demonstrated from elsewhere in the Old Testament,4 but let this suffice. 

The other Old Testament passages that speak of creation must be interpreted within the light of Genesis 1 and 2 as we have just seen it. When, therefore, the fourth commandment speaks of God's making the heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, then this refers to what we read in Genesis 1:1-2:25. That is the only creation work that Scripture speaks of. And when Ezra said "Thou art the LORD, Thou alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them" (Neh 9:6) then this too refers to the same creation work of God. There are not two creation works, namely Genesis 1:1 and then separate from that what follows in Genesis 1 and 2. 

Sequential action? 

A second argument used to plead for a time gap between the first two verses of Genesis is that verse 2 starts in the Hebrew with "and" and thus represents sequential action. First what is described in verse 1 occurred and then later what we read in verse 2. First God created the heaven and the earth and then (according to this argument) verse 2 literally reads, "And the earth became without form and void". This rendering thus indicates that there is a time gap between these verses. 

In response, it should be noted that translating "and" is misreading the Hebrew.5 According to Hebrew grammar, something that happened subsequently would be expressed by the following order: "and" + verb + subject. That is the normal narrative order in a verbal clause. Here in Genesis 1:2 however the order is "and" + subject + verb. This is the order used for circumstantial clauses. Such a clause describes the condition or circumstance. In this case, verse 2 describes the earth as God orginally created it. These were the circumstances and condition when God had called the earth into being and when He created light. Verse 2, therefore, does not describe how the earth became at some time after the creation of everything. 

In light of the above, it is with good reason that the Revised Standard Version leaves out "and" in its translation of this verse. In this way any wrong impression can be avoided, such as that something happened subsequent to verse 1. The New International Version translates: "Now the earth was formless and empty". This gets the disjunctive, explanatory sense of the Hebrew "and" across. 

Connected with this treatment of "and", is the desire by gap theory adherents to translate "was" in verse 2 ("the earth was without form and void) by "became" or "had become". "And the earth became (or `had become') without form and void". In this way the idea of sequence in time is conveyed. However such a translation is without any foundation. In circumstantial clauses the verb "to be" functions as a copula and is for that reason often omitted. Here it is included to stress that this is how it was in the beginning, at the time of God's creation work of the first day. 

Two other important arguments for a time gap have been put forward. We hope to consider these as well as other factors in understanding verse 2 the next time. 

1 E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (1964), 14.
2 W.W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled (1976), 8. Also see p. 7.
3 For an extensive treatment of all the arguments, see ibid., 51-146. What follows in this and in the next article is in part indebted to this work.
4 Ibid., 56-71.
5 For more precise and technical information on what follows in very popular terminology in this article, see Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar as ed. and enlarged by E. Kautzsch, 2nd ed. rev. A.E. Cowley (1910, 1966), sec. 156a, 141e,i; P. Jouon, Grammaire de l'hébreu biblique (1923, 1982), sec. 154m. 



In the preceding article we started to consider the gap theory by which a large time span was suggested to have existed between the first two verses of Genesis 1. One way this idea was defended involved imposing a rigid separation between the verbs "to create" and to "make." In this way it has been suggested that the earth was created once in the beginning, but subsequently remade due to the fall of creation in sin. The evidence for this argument was found wanting. We also saw that the beginning of the Hebrew text of verse 2 does not allow the view that verse 2 follows verse 1 in time. Two other important arguments still need to be considered. 

"...without form and void" 

It is reasoned that "without form and void" have negative connotations of God's judgment. When verse 2 tells us that "the earth was without form and void," we can draw the conclusion that God has judged the earth because of a preceding fall into sin. However such a conclusion is unwarranted. The terms in question do not necessarily speak of God's wrath. The usage of these terms elsewhere makes that clear. The first word "without form" (Hebrew tohu), although sometimes also translated by "vanity" or vain things" (e.g., 1 Samuel 12:21), literally means "emptiness." It is thus used of "a pathless waste," not formed into hospitable territory (Job 12:24; Psalm 107:40). It pictures the loneliness and desolateness of a barren desert. This is clear from the parallelism in Job 26:7. The first part reads: "He stretches out the north over the void [tohu]"; the second corresponds to this: "and hangs the earth upon nothing." From the above it can be concluded "that the meaning in Genesis 1:2 is that the earth was still devoid of all the countless living creatures which now occupy it in all of their colorful multiplicity. It was still one expanse of emptiness."1

The second expression in the pair "without form [tohu] and void [bohu]" only occurs with tohu in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 34:11; Jeremiah 4:23) and it is, therefore, difficult to evaluate it separately. The usage of the term bohu appears to indicate that it is used to strengthen the meaning of tohu. The sense is that the earth was as desolate and empty as could be. Good translations are therefore "without form and void" (RSV) or "formless and empty" (NIV). 

At the beginning of the LORD's creation work, the earth could not be inhabited. There is no mention of a fall of creation in the judgment of God or any implication that creation had to be remade. We can think here of Isaiah 45:18. "For this is what the LORD says - He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; He did not create it to be empty [tohu], but formed it to be inhabited - He says, I am the LORD, and there is no other" (NIV). The emptiness, the "without form and void," was but a first, initial phase in His creation work. The rest of Genesis 1 will show how God transformed this empty desolation to become an earth fully prepared to receive man. 

Darkness over the deep 

A fourth (and for our purposes final) argument for a time gap between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2 that can be noted concerns the reference to darkness in verse 2. It is said that this implies the presence of evil and judgment since darkness symbolizes sin and judgment in Scripture. (See, e.g., John 3:19. "And this is the judgment that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.") It is, therefore, supposed that God originally created the world in light and that the darkness resulted from the fall into sin and God's subsequent judgment. 

However, just because darkness can symbolize evil does not make darkness itself a manifestation of evil or inherently bad. God's Word teaches otherwise. Darkness is part of the cycle of day and night as God created it (Genesis 1:5; cf. Psalm 104:20-24). Man needs the darkness to get his rest. It is beneficial to him. 


In conclusion, there is no Scriptural basis for the theory that Genesis 1:2 describes the earth after it fell into God's judgment because of sin. What verse 2 does describe is the first stage in the preparation of the earth for man. "It is the first picture of the created world that the Bible gives....The earth was desolation and waste, but all was in God's hand and under his control; nothing was contrary to his design."2

Genesis 1:1 is a broad statement of the creation of heaven and earth. Verses 2 and 3 specifically describe the first day of creation. 

Genesis 1:2 

In this verse are three circumstantial clauses which describe the condition of the earth in the beginning after being created. The earth was "without form and void," "darkness was upon the face of the deep" and "the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." We have already considered the meaning of first clause ("without form and void"). Let us now look briefly at the last two. 

"Darkness was upon the face of the deep." This shows that no light was present. All was in darkness. The earth was covered with water. Psalm 104:6 refers to this. "Thou didst cover it [i.e. the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains." All the earth was covered. (Cf. Genesis 1:6f., 9f.). Concerning God's setting the bounds for the water on the third day, we read in Psalm 104:9"...that they [i.e. the waters] might not again cover the earth." The dominant place of water in the earth as first set forth also reminds us of 2 Peter 3:5,"...word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water." 

"The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." The earth was not yet habitable; but it was also not forsaken and left for what it was. No. God's Spirit moved over the face of the waters. Literally it says that the Spirit hovered, like a bird can hover, in care for what lies below. This calls to mind the image of the LORD hovering over Israel, as an eagle taking care of her young (Deuteronomy 32:11). The hovering of the Spirit of God over the deep shows that He is closely involved in the work of creation. 

The close involvement of the Spirit in the work of creating can also be seen in other passages of Scripture. Two examples can also be seen in other passages of Scripture. Two examples can suffice. "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of His mouth" (Psalm 33:6). Note that "the breath of His mouth" (which is a literary way of speaking of the Spirit) is parallel with "the word of the LORD." There is a close connection between the Spirit and the Word. The work of the Spirit in creating is also seen in Isaiah 40:12-13. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD or as His counsellor has instructed Him?" 

Genesis 1:2 and Scripture elsewhere shows that the Spirit participated in making creation ready for man. It can therefore be said that the Spirit's hovering over the face of the waters was not an empty act, or a mere presence of the Spirit. Aalders put it this way: "an active power goes forth from the Spirit of God to the earth substance that has already been created. This activity has a direct relationship to God's creative work. Perhaps we can say that the Spirit preserves this created material and prepares it for the further creative activity of God by which the then disordered world would become a well-ordered whole, as the further creative acts unfold for our view in the rest of this chapter."3

Before we proceed to continue with the rest of the creation account, it may be good in the next article to pause and address a question that is always there in any discussion of Genesis 1 and 2. What is the relationship of the Biblical account to the scientific study of origins? What role (if any) should science play in understanding these chapters? 

   C. Vandam
1 G.C. Aalders, Genesis, I (1981; orig. pub. in Dutch 1933), 54.
2 E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (1964), 38.
3 Aalders, Genesis, I, 56.
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