According to the book of Genesis the earth was in the begging a formless void and it was created by God in this way, and that formless void is expressed in the Bible through the formula “Tohu vav bohu”. Why would God have created the earth as a formless void first instead of an organised planet ready to receive life? At first glance it doesn’t make any sense. I try to answer this question using the established solutions in the religious literature.
What meaning can the affirmation that planet Earth was without form when it was created by God have? Was it not spherical? Was it like a pile of cosmic material thrown randomly into space and looking like an asteroid but with the difference that it was submerged under water? Did God in the beginning create a pile of matter in the middle of water? It is what the Bible says about the initial creation of the earth. In cosmos, all planets and stars are naturally organised into spherical bodies. Before reaching a mature stage, in the solar system, planets were rotating piles of gases which cooled and solidified. Nevertheless, being in the stage of floating gases, the earth couldn’t have been submerged in liquid water because in those conditions the rotating gases which later generated the planets of the solar system, couldn’t have taken the form of spherical celestial bodies.
Was the earth a kind of strange asteroid in the middle of a primeval ocean or was it a spherical planet from the beginning of its creation by God? From the way in which the book of Genesis describes the creation of the earth, under the primeval sea, the planet couldn’t have followed the usual course to become a spherical celestial body being shapeless and submerged in water.
Why are the planets spherical? The following text explains why celestial bodies having a certain dimension become spherical:
“One of the effects of mass is that it attracts other mass. When you have millions, and even trillions of tonnes of mass, the effect of the gravity really builds up. All of the mass pulls on all the other mass, and it tries to create the most efficient shape… a sphere. For smaller objects, like asteroids, the force of gravity trying to pull the object into a sphere isn’t enough to overcome the strength of the rock keeping it in shape. But once you get above a certain mass and size, the strength of the object can’t stop the force of gravity from pulling it into a sphere. Objects larger than about 1,000 km in size are able to pull themselves into a sphere.”
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The earth couldn’t have first been a pile of matter similar to an asteroid, and from this matter became a spherical planet, because an asteroid is much smaller than a planet and asteroids don’t become planets. The quantity of matter formed by dust and gases had to be of sufficient dimension from the beginning so as to constitute the future planet. In its solid form planet Earth was never a formless void in the sense of a shapeless pile of matter as the book of Genesis says.
Why would God have created a heap of formless matter as a planet, such as the book of Genesis says that He did? Planets are big enough to determine by gravity their spherical shape. Under the action of gravity such a big quantity of matter, as was that of the earth, would have been made into a sphere even if at the beginning it was only a formless pile of gas.
If God created in the beginning a pile of gas and dust and this is the meaning of the expression “formless void” used by the book of Genesis, this gathering of matter couldn’t have evolved into a spherical planet because that compound would have been under the waters of the primeval sea, according to the Bible. A rotating pile of gas under water doesn’t make sense. Whoever says that science and religion don’t diverge about the creation of the earth is wrong, they are very far from one another. Only on the third day did the dry land appear from under the waters of the primeval sea in the book of Genesis.
“9 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1; 9-10 NRSV)
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In the Bible the initial heap of cosmic matter was covered by the waters of the primeval sea and the book of Genesis doesn’t say when and how it became a spherical planet. How could the earth have transformed itself from a heap of matter into a spherical planet under water? The alleged phenomenon would have needed to happen before the separation of the waters and the creation of plants. If that was correct it would mean that in the first two days of creation when the earth was still under water it would have been transformed from a pile of matter in a spherical planet. This is very unlikely, it is an absurd scenario imposed by the narratives from the book of Genesis.
When someone thinks of the earth at the beginning of its existence, in the biblical perspective, he or she must not think to a sphere but to a heap of matter, regardless of how deformed, covered by water. Why would God have created all other planets and stars spherical and only created the earth formless at the beginning? On the fourth day of creation the sun, moon and stars would have been created as functional spherical celestial bodies, if not they couldn’t have given light which was the purpose of their creation. If the creation of sun, moon and stars had begun and ended in that day there wasn’t enough time for their evolution from piles of gases to solid celestial bodies. This again is a contradiction between science and the book of Genesis, the former postulating a long process in the formation of the stars and planets but the latter proposing that they were created from the beginning in the form that they are today. We can find at this point a discrepancy in the stories of creation from the Bible which say that the earth wasn’t created from the beginning as a spherical planet as it is in our time but a shapeless pile of matter unlike the sun, moon, stars and all other planets in our solar system. Why would the earth have been created as a less complete celestial body in comparison with other planets if from the beginning it was destined by God for a higher mission? It is what the Bible says but it doesn’t make sense.
When speaking about evolution one shouldn’t think only to the biological evolution which allowed the human species to emerge from less evolved biological beings, because evolution is a general concept which speaks about phenomena within the perspective of their dynamic in time. Time is of the essence for evolution. Things didn’t come to be what they are at once from a process of divine creation, but they evolved from less developed to more sophisticated beings.
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The stars and planets followed the same rule. They didn’t come to be what they are in a so-called ready-to-go manner from one day to another but they followed many stages before being what they are at the present time. This ready-made manner of creation is contrary to the way in which the study of cosmos shows us that the universe works.
Evolution cannot be negated as a process and is visible all around us. Even an individual human being evolves in his or her lifetime from a baby to an adult and finally rolls downward toward physical decay. Stars also continue to evolve all the time from piles of gases to celestial bodies and after a long period of time they die. This evolution is real and visible, it isn’t a trick of the sciences in order to trap faithful people and the solution isn’t to be blind to it and to deny the evidence. Today, different stages of the formation of stars can be observed in the sky, starting with piles of gases on their way to becoming stars and ending with stars which have exploded, changing dramatically their form.
In another interpretation, the place occupied by the earth would have appeared to be a formless void because it would have been covered by water, and the water would have been like a universal formless void. In other words, the primeval sea would have had no boundaries and would have covered everything, and for this reason the earth also would have looked like a formless void. Everything was a formless void, a sea without a form or without a defined contour covering everything, earth, and the place for the sky.
If we want to get an image of what the Bible says about the beginning of creation, that picture is totally confused and the only point of reference is a mythological one which is contained by the alleged presence of the primeval sea at the time.
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That primeval sea is a common element for Jewish mythology and for other mythologies of other nations in that epoch. It means that God would have created the life on Earth fighting against the authority of a mythological personage symbolised by the primeval sea, the latter being the symbol of evil in many cultures.
Tohu va bohu shouldn’t be seen as referring exclusively to the physical form but also to the function of the earth at that stage. Being formless or shapeless, the earth would have also been empty, unpopulated. There are two elements in the expression tohu va bohu, used by the book of Genesis in order to emphasise the degree of the decay in which the earth would have been at that time.
There is also the opinion that by formless it should be understood that the earth was insufficiently organised to be a suitable environment for life. This of course cannot change the clear reference to the lack of physical shape of the earth at that date of creation..
This is another way of avoiding what the Bible says. The spherical form isn’t sufficient for the existence of life, consequently the two conditions mustn’t be confounded. All planets are spherical; they aren’t formless but nevertheless many are insufficiently organised to be a suitable environment for life. One condition refers to the physical form and the other to other necessary conditions for the existence of life.
The word “tohu” refers firstly and fore mostly to the physical shape and not to the deficient functions of a certain planetary environment, and recognises that the first condition for matter to be able to host more evolved life is to be organised as a spherical planet. “Bohu” would refer mainly to the functional characteristics such as emptiness or desolation.
The origins of the Jewish people are in Mesopotamia and Abraham came from Ur, a city situated on the banks of Euphrates. For this reason, one shouldn’t be amazed by the closest relations between Mesopotamian culture and Jewish culture, including their mythologies. The words “tohu” and “bohu” are not Hebrew but most likely they are Sumerian words. In the Sumerian language nouns commonly end in -u but in the Hebrew language -u is a verb ending.
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Tohu and bohu are nouns, not verbs, therefore their origin is rather Sumerian, showing the influence of that mythology on the book of Genesis.
“The Gap Theory”, suggests the angels were created “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), rather than during or after the creation week, and that Satan and his demonic followers had fell prior to Genesis 1:2. Chalmers grounds this theory in the reinterpretation of words used in Genesis 1:2, and their relationship with other passages of scripture.” In this understanding, Genesis 1:2 could, or should read: “But the earth became or “had become” without form and void.” The expression “without form and void” has been translated from the Hebrew phrase “tohu vav bohu.” The words tohu and bohu are also found in Isaiah 34; 11, but they are interpreted in the sense of confusion (tohu) and emptiness (bohu). Thus “tohu” can also mean “confused”, and “bohu” can mean “empty”. “Confused” and “without form” share in common a lack of order, in a place where there should be order. Perhaps, then, the text could be read as follows; “But the earth wasin disarray, andempty.”
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Jeremiah 4:23-26 also uses the phrase “tohu va bohu”. This is the biblical text:
23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. (Jeremiah 4; 23-26 NRSV)
What is interesting, though, is that it refers to cities, and what’s more it seems that these cities had received judgment from The Lord – “all the cities thereof were broken down (in disarray) at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger”.
In the eyes of those who spiritualise the expression “tohu va bohu”, perhaps these cities represented the homes of the angels who had fallen. The word “choshek” has been interpreted, in most translations of the Bible, as “darkness”, and when we read it we assume this is a natural darkness (i.e. before the creation of natural light), but the word “choshek” is also used in Exodus 10:21 to describe the darkness The Lord brought upon Egypt, which was so dark it could be felt. Thus, again, in this kind of spiritualised interpretation, Genesis 1:2 could be read: “Butthe earth was in disarray, and empty; and spiritual darknesswas upon the face of the demonic realm.”
Allegedly, according to the Gap Theory, Satan brought in disarray a previous order of the earth, about which we know nothing. God came on the first day of creation and started to restore it. If the darkness brought by Satan was physical and not only spiritual it means that there had already been a physical light on Earth previous to that darkness, and before the creation of the light on the first day, according to the book of Genesis chapter 1.
The Gap Theory implies that before darkness was light on Earth, but the book of Genesis doesn’t say that and doesn’t allow us to infer that. In order for Satan to bring disorder a previous order had to exist, but that order necessarily entails the existence of physical light.
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Spiritually speaking, light means order and darkness means decay. At the same time, a physical light, not only a spiritual one, was needed for the existence of a previous order. Such a light would have been created by God and would have been mentioned by the Bible.
Spiritual light and material light are two very different things and they mustn’t be confounded. If physical darkness and disorder came together, nothing like that is actually said by the Bible. But what is darkness? It is the absence of light, no more and no less. Satan couldn’t have annihilated the alleged physical light which God would have created in the beginning before the first day of creation. Spiritual darkness can be generated by the absence of God but physical darkness must be related to a physical light.
In the process of biblical creation, the sun wasn’t in place until the fourth day according to the book of Genesis and a previous order, presumed by the Gap Theory, had to be realised in a physical darkness or under a provisional light. Another provisional light without sun would have been needed; one that would have been switched off by Satan, but such a hypothesis looks very improbable. Two provisional lights, one before the earth, would have been brought to chaos by Satan, and the other one from the first day of creation until the fourth day when the sun would have been created is an absurd theory. Nevertheless, a physical light created by God couldn’t have been switched off by Satan, but He didn’t create such provisional lights.
As a matter of fact, the order in the creation couldn’t have been completed before the sixth day. The creation couldn’t have been finalised at the beginning of it and the order couldn’t have been fully in place from the beginning. What order would have been brought in disarray by Satan? It would have been only a partial, incomplete order and without human beings who were created on the sixth day of creation.
The Gap Theory is in contradiction with the creation in six days. In the economy of the Bible, the state of “tohu va bohu” was God’s creation, and not Satan’s creation. Satan couldn’t have destroyed something which the Bible doesn’t allow us to presume would have existed, an order before the first day of creation.
The representatives of a spiritual interpretation of the expression “tohu va bohu” maintain that:
“It is clear, then, that the angels were created before ‘the beginning’, and that Genesis 1 is not a history of the origins of the entire cosmos, but just of our world – the ‘physical realm.’ If Satan and his followers have rebelled against The Lord, then they have sinned. They can no longer be in his presence and thus they have ‘fallen from the sky like lightning.’ Where did they land when they fell? The Lord cast Satan and his followers into a hell from which he withdrew his presence. The earth was in disarray, and empty; and spiritual darkness was upon the face of the [demonic realm] The Lord created Earth and withdrew his presence from it, but then upon this he created the Earth we know, as is described in Days one to six. Thus Satan and his followers live in the deep, the abyss, the demonic realm, ‘underneath’ the good but fallen creation we inhabit.”
The Bible doesn’t contain any information about what happened in the “heavens” in the beginning and how and why Satan succeeded in upsetting God, and why he was cast out from heaven. At the same time, we really don’t know, from the narrative of creation, exactly in what moment Satan was thrown out from the sky. Was it before or after the creation of light? Satan fell from the sky like lightning so he probably fell after the creation of light because it is improbable that he had been the first light of the creation. That would set Satan’s fall after the creation of light in the first day and not before it.
“18 He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (Luke 10; 18 NRSV)
I don’t find merits in the theory by which the expression “tohu va bohu” would mean a void and an emptiness brought to the earth by the evil angels. The Gap Theory must completely disregard the text from Exodus 20; 11 in order to become sustainable. At the same time, this theory doesn’t have enough support in other biblical texts.
The narratives from the book of Genesis tried to describe literally the origins of the universe and there isn’t anything which must be read beyond the written text.
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All creation including the creation of heavens was made in six days, according to the Bible. For this reason, it is difficult to maintain that anything at all was created before the six-day period of time.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20; 11 NRSV)
“It is vital to believe in six literal days for many reasons. The foremost reason is that allowing these days to be long periods of time undermines the foundations of the message of the Cross.”
Ken Ham also argues that the second part of the text contained by 2 Peter 3; 8 cancel the first part and the provision that for God one day is like one thousand years is annihilated by the assertion that one thousand years are also like a day..
“8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” (2 Peter 3; 8 NRSV)
How can one know if the seven days are to be considered literally or not? One argument is about the regular successions of evenings and of the mornings. As long as we don’t have another option for the interpretation of the words “morning” and “evening” we cannot give but a literal interpretation of the days of creation. Another argument is based on the meaning of the Hebrew word used for “day” in Genesis chapter 1 which is “;yom”. The meaning of the words, in the Bible depends on the context in which they are used. Every time the word “yom” is used with a number or with the phrase “evening and morning”, everywhere in the Old Testament, it always means an ordinary day. In Genesis chapter 1, for each of the six days of creation, the Hebrew word “yom” is used with a number and also with the phrase, “evening and morning”. The most reasonable conclusion is to say that “yom” in Genesis chapter 1 means ordinary days.
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