I know that I have been repetitive, but it is needed. This interpretation that I have given you of Genesis 1:1 is uncommon today. The older commentators tend to say what I have just said, and the better of the more modern commentators agree, but not many. And I am afraid that Christians today often go on unaware of the heavenly realm. We are often times worldly minded, fixated upon this things of this earth, consumed with the visible, the physical and the tangible. But the Holy Scriptures begin by establishing that in the beginning God created the heavensand the earth.
In The Beginning God Created The Earth
Notice how quickly the text comes to focus upon the earthly realm. No detail at all is provided concerning the creation of the heavenly realm. We are simply told that God created it in the beginning. But some detail will be given concerning the formation of the earth.
In verse 2 we read, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2, ESV). What follows will be a description of God bringing the earth (the universe) into the form that it has today. There is light and there is darkness. There is land and there is sea. There is an atmosphere for us to breath. These realms are all governed by rulers: the sun, moon and stars; fish and birds; land animals with man as supreme. This is the world as we know it.
But do you see that in verse 2 it is revealed to us that earth was “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2, ESV). In other words when God created the earthly realm he did not at first create it complete and fully formed, suitable for the sustenance of life. It was incomplete, unformed, and uninhabitable.
A question we might ask is, how long did the world exist in this incomplete, unformed, and uninhabitable state?
Some very good commentators say that it is impossible to know.
But in order to hold this position – the position that the earth may have existed for a long time in this formless, void, and dark state – one must separate verse 2 from verses 3 through 5, which say, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:3–5, ESV).
Put differently, if we are to believe that the earth existed for a long time, “without form and void, [with] darkness… over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God… hovering over the face of the waters”, then day one of creation must begin verse 3 and the words, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Genesis 1:3, ESV).
In others words, in order to hold the view that the stuff of the universe might be very, very old, but that the earth as we know it in it’s present form is relatively young, one must separate the act of absolute creation that is described in verse 1 from the act of formative creation that is described in verses 3 and following. Only then can we hold to the belief that the stuff of the universe is old, whereas the form of it is relatively young.