Genesis 1: Creation or Reconstruction?

Genesis 1: Creation or Reconstruction?

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark resides in Morrison, Tenn. Converted at the age of thirteen, he later attended colleges in both Chicago and Boston. Some years after his formal education he was led into the Lord’s service. Locally identified with Christians gathered to the name of the Lord, he presently carries on a Bible teaching and writing ministry, his articles having appeared in several evangelical magazines.

This is Mr. Clark’s first article in Focus. Since there are differing viewpoints on Genesis 1, the editor will welcome any and all courteous responses to our brother’s views and will see that they are forwarded to him.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1). The question that has intrigued men for centuries and is being revived “with a vengeance” in our present time is simply this: When was the beginning?

Scientists postulate that the earth is millions of years old and that man himself is almost this ancient, having evolved through a series of stages from a primeval one-celled amoeba to his present level of biological sophistication.

Creationists staunchly defend their view that the earth—and man—are only about six thousand years old. They see Genesis 1 as the account of the original creation—a work done in six days of twenty-four hours each. It should be noted that creationists are not always fundamentalists. Indeed, they may be quite liberal in regard to many basic doctrines of the Bible. They are, however, united in their insistence on a recent date for the creation of the universe, feeling that any other view is contrary to Biblical teaching on the subject.

Two Views or Three?

Do these two views present the entire story or is there still a third view to be considered? For years, many Bible students and expositors have felt that both science and creationism contain elements of truth, but that both theories also contain inherent errors.

James M. Gray wrote that “should science ultimately determine on millions of years ago as the period of creation there is nothing (in Genesis 1) it would contradict” (The Christian Workers’ Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 18).

This reasoning is based on what is sometimes called the “Restitution Theory” or the “Chaotic Judgment Theory.” Quite simply, this view suggests that a great period of time elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. What happened during this time? C.I. Scofield remarked that after Genesis 1:1 the “earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of a divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe” (The Scofield Reference Bible, 1917 edition).

There are several questions that the advocates of the “Original Chaos Theory” (the view that the earth was originally created as described in Genesis 1:2 — “without form and void”) must ask concerning the account of creation. In the first place, it is obvious that Genesis 1 does not give or pretend to give an account of all of God’s creative work. When, for example, were the angels created? When did Satan fall? It is obvious that both events were previous to the creation of Adam at least.

The Greek scholar Kenneth S. Wuest, writing in Prophetic Light in the Present Darkness, comments that “the angels were God’s first creation. They existed before Genesis 1:1, for they shouted for joy at the beauty of the newly created universe (Job 38:47).” He goes on to say that “no date is given (in the Bible) for the creation of the universe. The sciences of geology and astronomy both demonstrate that the universe is millions of years old.”

Concerning the history of the preAdamic earth, he writes: “On the perfect earth of Genesis 1:1, God placed… Lucifer, as priest and king over a race of beings. Because of Lucifer’s fall (see Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-17), the earth and its planetary heavens were rendered a chaos. No one knows how many millions of years this chaotic condition of the earth lasted. In 4000 B.C. God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

A.E. Booth, in his highly-illuminating “Chart of the Course of Time from Eternity to Eternity” (Loizeaux Brothers), sees an originally perfect earth with the condition in Genesis 1:2 being the result of a divine judgment and the “six days’ work” being a reconstruction.

Some Points to Ponder

Is this simply a wild theory or does the Bible show that Genesis 1:2 is not the original condition of the created earth?

Attempts to prove or disprove this theory are usually based on one or two points. One is the fact that “was” in 1:2 could well be translated “became.” This is true (the word is hayah which is translated either “became” or “came to pass” over one hundred times in Genesis alone in the UV), but not conclusive since hayah is the ordinary word for existence (“to be”) and could be rendered either “was or “became,” depending on the context.

Another point is the fact that two different words are used for “creating” and “making.” The first is bars. This refers to “creating” something (not necessarily out of nothing, though this is implied since the word is used only in regard to God in the O.T. and only God can make something out of nothing). The other word is asah which literally means (to appoint to a function.” Thus only three genuinely creative acts are implied in Genesis 1: the original creation of human life (1:27). In other instances (e.g., 1:16), the idea is not that of something newly created but of something appointed to a certain function or purpose.

There are two other factors, however, which are more convincing and —to a person who accepts the verbal inspiration of the Bible — even conclusive.

The first is found in Genesis 1:2 —“the earth was without form and void.” This extremely idiomatic rendering in the King James Version is an interpretive rather than a literal translation of the Hebrew words. The words are tohu (“without form”) and bohu (“void”). These words are translated “waste and empty” in the J.N. Darby version (one of the most consistently accurate translations available).

Tohu appears some twenty times in the Old Testament and is rendered in the King James Version variously as “empty (place), waste, wilderness, confusion, nothing, naught, vanity, vain, and without form” (the latter occurring only twice). Darby translated the word “waste” in eight places, and in most other passages he provided an explanatory footnote relating it to “waste.”

The word tohu literally means “to lie waste, a desolation, a worthless thing.” Gesenius describes it as “that which is wasted or laid waste, destruction.”

Bohu occurs only three times in the Old Testament and each time is paired with tohu. The King James Version translates it “emptiness, void.” The basic meaning is vacuity, an emptiness, by implication “an undistinguishable ruin.”

The two other passages (other than genesis 1:2) where this word occurs gives a clue to its meaning, as well as to the meaning of the Genesis passage. These are Jeremiah 4:23 —“I beheld the earth, and lo, it was waste and empty” (JND trans.) and Isaiah 34:11 — “And He shall stretch out upon it the line of waste, and the plummets of emptiness” (JND trans.).

In both cases, we find the word referring not simply to something in the stages of being formed but to something which has suffered judgment and destruction (see contexts).

The matter seems conclusive when we consider Isaiah 45:18 (and remember that every word in the Hebrew Bible was “taught by the Spirit” — see 1 Corinthians 2:13) which reads: “For thus saith Jehovah who created the heavens, God Himself who formed the earth and made it, He who established it, — not as waste did He create it” (JND trans.).

So we find that if God did not create the earth waste, then the condition in Genesis 1:2, where it is described as a waste, cannot be its condition as originally created but must be a subsequent condition. If this were not the case, the Spirit could easily have chosen another word for either the Genesis or Isaiah passage.

This point is as clearly revealed by our own knowledge of God’s character. Could anything created by God be considered a “worthless thing, a desolation, a waste”? Everything made by God must have originally been perfect.

Another factor is also based on our knowledge of God — this is simply the fact that if Genesis 1 describes the original creation, and if this creation occurred some six thousand years ago, then light must have been created only six thousand years ago as well (Genesis 1:3). Yet God has existed forever and the Apostle Paul tells us that God dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16), and John informs us that “God is light; and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Can anyone imagine a place where God is but light is not? Light must have existed eternally, and since light would be the natural environment and consequence of God’s presence and existence, darkness itself must have been created at some previous time to Genesis 1:2 but subsequent to Genesis 1:1. Darkness — not light — is an unnatural condition and the darkness in Genesis 1:2 cannot be considered a description of the state of space before God began His work.


Man as we know him (Adam-man) may be only about six thousand years old, but the Bible nowhere suggests that the heavens and the earth are only this old. As to what events occurred between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, we have no explicit details, only hints. The Biblical evidence seems conclusive, however, in favor of regarding the “six days’ work” as a reconstruction rather than the original creation of planet earth.