Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Between Beginning and Day One (Genesis 1:2)

1:2 “Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters.”

It is interesting to note (and an indication of just how precise and symbolic the language used in this prologue is) that this verse has exactly 14 words in the Hebrew. Verse 1 had seven. Lest that is seen as simply a coincidence, numbers are important throughout this prologue. Several words or phrases are repeated seven or multiples of seven times. (God, earth, heavens/firmament, “it was so”, “it was good”) This can’t be called poetry, but it is highly developed and precise prose.

“Formless and void” describes the state of the creation before God’s subsequent creative, ordering effort. The terms are rare and together always describe the world in this early, primordial state. Some try to read a “gap” into the text here. They claim God created everything perfect but an unwritten event occurs after verse one that throws everything into chaos. The text is too unified to give this view credence. More likely is the idea that God initially created the universal matter and then developed and further created things to the point where they were by day seven.

Darkness and the deep, outside of the creative action in verse one, are not explicitly said to be created by God. In the case of darkness, that makes sense because it is a non-thing rather than some-thing to be made. It is the absence of light. Later when the question of evil arises, this will be a helpful concept to understand. Otherwise, how can you have evil in a universe where everything is declared good? Evil like darkness is not so much an opposite as an absence. The deep has a symbolic quality in scripture and ancient thought. Here is is simply manner to be manipulated by God. A stark contrast to powers opposed to God as is seen in creation stories and myths of the time.

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